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I have seen some examples about using "in" with time expressions. They give some examples as shown below:

I will leave for vacation in a month. (Exactly one month from now I will go on vacation.)

We’ll be there in an hour. (Exactly one hour will go by and then we will arrive.)

But these comments confused me. Then I looked the usage of "in" up in a dictionary and it says about usage of "in" with time expressions :"before or at the end of a particular period". I think the comments and the definition in the dictionary contradict each other?

dictionary

I have examples of mine:

1- Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. (Maybe dinner will be ready at the 5th minute? or 8th. Does it strictly mean dinner will be ready at the end of the ten minutes?)

2- My letter arrived in two days. ( Does that mean it took exactly two days to arrive? or Could it be just one day because he/she doesnt remember the exact time?)

3- Imagine you are on the first day of a month and your friend says: I will be going outside the country in this month. (Does that mean he/she could go tomorrow or ten days later or at the end of the month?)

4- He can run a mile in 5 minutes. ( Does that mean he has to spent entire 5 minutes to run a mile? Could it be 4 or 4.5 minutes?)

  • There's a potential difference between We’ll be there in an hour (best current estimate for arrival time is one hour from now), and We’ll be there within an hour (we don't expect to arrive later than an hour from now, but it might well be somewhat earlier). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 29 at 13:58
  • @FumbleFingers But the dictionary give these definitions about in: "needing or using no more time than a particular amount of time" For example : "Can you finish the job in two weeks?" and the other definitions is that: "before or at the end of a particular period" For example : "I'm just setting off, so I should be with you in half an hour." dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/in – Talha Özden Apr 29 at 14:47
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Like many other things in English, before or at the end of a particular period can be ambiguous. As with words that have multiple meanings, you can only tell what is actually meant in any given situation by its context.

For instance:

I will be there in an hour.

This normally means to expect the person to arrive at the end of an hour—although they could still show up earlier than that.

However:

I will be there sometime in the next hour.

Here, additional wording indicates that there is no set time—except for expecting the person to arrive no later than an hour from now. The use of sometime gives it the sense as within. But even if sometime isn't used, the next also conveys that as a subtle suggestion—more than just an does.


As the dictionary definition says, the word in can be used in both contexts.

Generally speaking, I'd say it's more common for in to mean at the end of the time mentioned than for it to mean within the time period mentioned. If you assume the first interpretation, you'll be right more often than not.


The conversational use of in is mostly understood, but it's still open to misinterpretation.

If somebody wants to deliberately convey an explicit piece of information about timing, then they would phrase it differently:

I will be there in exactly an hour.
I will be there at 2:00 p.m.

  • Most people I have seen describing the meaning of the "in" with time expressions ignore the before part(before or at the end of a particular period) of the description. They just say exactly 1 minutes, 5 days etc. from now. – Talha Özden Apr 30 at 20:19
  • I have one more question : As we know "in" with time expressions indicate before or at the end of a particular period so does "within". As far as I understand, I can use "in" and "within" interchangeably with time expressions if I want not to indicate the end of a period but sometime in the period? – Talha Özden Apr 30 at 20:25
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    @TalhaÖzden Using within doesn't necessarily exclude the end of a period—but it's more likely something will occur prior to that. However, as I said, in more commonly does indicate the end of a period. Barring other words to establish a context where that's not the case, simply replacing in with within would be the simplest way of expressing a time in a period. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica May 1 at 1:19

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