When asking about something that will be later I have two ways to ask it:

At what time is the lecture today? At what time you will come tomorrow?


What time is the lecture today? What time you'll come tomorrow?

When looking for information about it I found a comment (I can't find this site again) in which the the writer there wrote that in the US we can find "at what time" in the written language but not in the spoken language. It seems that both are correct but one is formal and the the other is informal. Is it correct for both American and British English?

  • 1
    Formal / informal is irrelevant to this usage. It's just that the preposition is optional in such contexts. My guess is it might have been included more often in the past (it's not usually included today). Some people mistakenly conflate "dated, antiquated" usage with "formal", which might explain where you got that mistaken impression from. But it really is just a meaningless stylistic choice, where all other things being equal we usually tend to prefer shorter forms. Jul 29, 2018 at 12:53
  • Maybe it is a mistake, but now after checking it again on google I found this site of Cambridge which claims the same: dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/numbers/time Jul 29, 2018 at 15:36
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    Actually, I've just followed your most recent Cambridge Dictionary link, and I'm appalled to see them claiming that Is the swimming pool open at that hour? is somehow "incorrect" (they say it should be ...at that time). That's just plain wrong - Hello? It's after midnight! What are you doing calling me at this hour? is an idiomatically well-established usage (that's millions of hits in Google Books). Jul 29, 2018 at 15:44
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    Maybe it represents British English only while you represent American English. Isn't it? (Cambridge is allegedly prestigious institute in all of what regarding to the English language. But maybe I'm wrong) Jul 29, 2018 at 15:58
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    Possible duplicate of "What time...?" or "At what time...?" - what is more grammatically correct? I chose the newer question because the answer posted by FF is more thorough and it has seven upvotes.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 24, 2019 at 7:50

1 Answer 1


Let's analyze, but focusing only on the lecture example, and let's assume, in order to simplify the language, that we all know the lecture is today and we're only asking about time. So here are three options -- your two, followed by a commonly used third:

  1. At what time is the lecture?
  2. What time is the lecture?
  3. What time is the lecture at?

Note first that since all three are widely used, all three are acceptable. (Literally -- because they are accepted.) And that goes for both the UK and US, and for written and spoken English.

HOWEVER, when you multiply it all out -- the three forms of words, two countries, two delivery modes --- the resulting TWELVE possibilities do have different flavours (or flavors :-) ) and it's useful to know the impact each will have. Here is a rough outline:

  1. At what time is the lecture?

This is the most formal of the three, and most likely to appear in written British English. It would sound most stilted in spoken American English. The placement of the preposition "at" at the front probably stems from an old, but silly rule that one should never end a sentence in a preposition.

  1. What time is the lecture?

This is perhaps the least formal, so reverse the above in terms of formality. Now there is an argument that this form is simply wrong since it is committing a category error. A lecture is a lecture, not a time. So it makes no sense to ask what time a lecture is. By contrast, lectures can be at a time, hence forms #1 and #3. But again, this form is widely used, and so it cannot sensibly be said to be wrong. The meaning of language is its use in practice, an' all that Wittgenstein stuff.

  1. What time is the lecture at?

Were it not for the silly "don't end a sentence in a preposition rule" (stemming, I think, from Latin translation standards) this form would, to me, be the best middle road. It is strictly grammatically correct (versus #2 which is not), but it avoids the stilted formality of #1.

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