In German, we can say "jede Stunde um 16 nach". I just overheard someone teaching there was no such possibility in English. Yet I found "hourly at 45 minutes past" in one answer here. Is the following also correct?

The train departs at 16 past every hour.

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    Personally I'd say "The train departs at 16 minutes past each hour" but maybe that's BrE.
    – abligh
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 6:16
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    This is how they say it on many radio stations (such as 1010WINS, e.g.)
    – user104095
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 17:21
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    Colloquially (at least in the UK) it's common to hear "The train departs at 16 minutes past the hour" to mean every hour (which works because in many places people expect train timetables to be repeated each hour through the day), but this is potentially ambiguous ("the train departs regularly at 16 minutes past the hour" would remove that ambiguity). Also it would probably be more common to say "quarter past" unless minute-level precision is needed.
    – Dave
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 12:39

5 Answers 5


I have seen this written many times on bus timetables etc. and find no reason why someone wouldn't understand it.

To be extra clear, I would make one amend::

The train departs at 16 minutes past every hour.

Or even better

The train departs at 16 minutes past the hour, every hour.

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    "A train departs at …" or "Trains depart at …. " would be better, since it is unlikely there is only one physical train providing the service.
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 23:42
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    @alephzero At least in AmE, we say "The train leaves at <time>" to refer to whatever physical train gets deployed to carry out a schedule already under discussion, even when <time> refers to a recurring time. It's like saying "The 551 leaves on the half-hour." Note the present tense; it's the eternal "the". "A train for Albany leaves at 5:30" means that such a scheduled route exists. To introduce some sort of special train, we'd say "A train will…" (future tense). "The train broke down in Schenectady. A train from the yard will arrive at 5:55 to pick up its route." That's one physical train.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 1:13
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    @alephzero It's very common to say "the train/bus/plane departs" to refer to a service of multiple trains/buses/planes. You could also say "There is a train/bus/plane departing ..."
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 3:33
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    @alephzero Not to pile on, but that's fine in BrE too. "The train" doesn't necessarily mean the physical, specific, engine and carriage; it can mean, more abstractly, whatever train is fulfilling the service at that point in time. "I'm getting the train to Edinburgh tomorrow" is a normal thing to say, though there are usually multiple such physical entities. In fact, if anything, I find Bee's wording more idiomatic than your suggested alternative. Which, granted, is kind of weird. :) Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 18:02
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    I don't think it's really necessary to say "minutes". It's understood that periods relative to the hour are normally minutes.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 20:23

What alephzero said (in comment) is also true of US English: "every hour at 16 past the hour."

From Merriam Webster dictionary

Definition of past the hour

used with a certain number of minutes to indicate how long after the beginning of an hour something will happen

"Trains leave every hour at ten minutes past the hour."

This is more colloquial, to my ear, than "past every hour" and Google agrees

One can also say "16 minutes before the hour," whereas "before every hour" is almost unattested

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    If you write it this way, it's not clear that it means every hour, it could just be this one train that leaves at 16 past. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 16:18
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    It makes sense that "past every hour" is used less, but I don't think it's just because it sounds less colloquial. In the case of trains, for example, past every hour would imply the trains are running 24 hours a day, which may not be the case.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 17:24
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    user3067860: "at 16 past the hour" is, as you say ambiguous, but I (and Merriam Webster) wrote "every hour at 16 past the hour." I don't see the ambiguity in that. . However, when writing for the broadest possible audience, it may be better not to use the more colloquial phrase, because it relies for comprehension on the reader's (or hearer's) knowledge of English idioms. So, there's a case to be made for the less colloquial "at 16 past every hour."
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 19:45

You may hear more casual variations of this such as:

There are trains at 16 past, every hour.

The trains are at 16 past, every hour.

Generally, the trains will not be running on the same schedule for the entire day, so you'll often hear this with a time constraint:

There are trains at 16 and 39 past, every hour, until 5.

There are trains at 16 and 39 past, every hour, from 9 until 5.

You'd also be likely to hear these further condensed:

There are trains at 16 and 39 past until 5.

There are trains at 16 and 39 past from 9 until 5.

  • In Britain, I don't about elsewhere, there is a tendency to make train and bus times easily memorable so that people don't need to consult timetables. Often a service which runs at the same times in every hour will be called a 'clock face' service, and you might see a description, especially in railway publications, like this: "the Waterloo-Guildford service at xx:00, xx:20 and xx:40". My bus service to work starts at 06:55 from my local stop, and runs at xx:55 and xx:25 until 23:25. Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 20:12
  • Perhaps for a starting point, but stops along the way are unlikely to all be rounded to the nearest 5 minutes.
    – Chris Mack
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 23:36
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    In British English it is idiomatic to say "clock face" times as "ten past the hour", "20 past the hour", etc, but for other times you would usually say "16 minutes past the hour" etc. Naming times, you say " 5 past 2", "10 past 2", "a quarter past 2" etc, but "16 minutes past 2" or "two-sixteen", not "16 past two".
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 23:46
  • Chris Mack - those were just examples I made up to illustrate the notation and 20 minute intervals. Trains can start, call, and arrive at any minute past an hour. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 7:18
  • @MichaelHarvey - Sorry, I misunderstood, though I'm not sure I understand your point as it pertains to my answer.
    – Chris Mack
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 19:35

The idiomatic expression in English related to this is "every hour, on the hour" (with the comma sometimes being omitted, as in:

By 2002, the RUC was run every hour, on the hour, producing 12-hour forecasts with a 1 hour temporal resolution.

Which means that it ran at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, etc etc.

Closely-related is "every hour, on the half-hour" (with the comma and/or the hyphen sometimes omitted,) as in:

Retrieval times are 9:30, then every hour on the half hour, with the last retrieval at 3:30 (4:30 on Tuesday and Thursday).

To further approach your specific question, we also have "every hour on the quarter-hour", which I hope you might guess is:

Train: Oxford Road to Urmston though it's only every hour, on the quarter hour, so not necessarily the best way.

All of that has been generalized to "every hour, on the X", where X is some number, and usually pluralized:

It looks like the buses leave every hour on the 16s.

This can also be generalized to frequencies other than hourly:

Providing you with up to the minute breaking news, headlines and video, as well as traffic and weather updates every ten minutes on the ones.

This is, I think, a bit less-formal than some of the other correct expressions listed in other answers, but I would expect any competent English speaker to readily-grasp the meaning.

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    I've never heard "on the 16s". It doesn't even sound like English to me.
    – TonyK
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 21:49
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    TonyK "doesn't even sound like English to me" Also sounds odd to me, but Roger provides an example. A little Googling yields a few more examples. It seems to be mainly used by radio stations, and, for some reason, mostly mentioned by people from the US state of North Carolina (although I haven't investigated this very thoroughly). In written form, it's usually with a colon (e.g. "on the :16s") which makes it clearer that the number ("16" in this example) is meant to indicate minutes.
    – Scott
    Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 14:41

In British English (and I believe AmEng too) there are idiomatic ways of stating specific times on the clock, although these expressions do not necessarily apply when speaking about hours and minutes in general.

You can write any time numerically in 12, or 24-hour format:

Trains depart at 15:16, 15:46. 16:16 etc

How we say those times depends on the number of minutes past the hour, and if writing them in words, we would write them as they should be spoken.

We don't usually use the words "hours" and "minutes" when quoting a specific time, and when the minutes are divisible by 5, for example:

  • Five past four (16:05)
  • Twenty-five past five (17:25)
  • Twenty to six (17:40)

Also, when the time is precisely 15, 30, or 45 minutes past the hour, we tend to say:

  • A quarter past five. (17:15)
  • Half-past five (17:30)
  • A quarter to six (17:45)

However, when the number of minutes is not divisible by 5, we do include the word "minutes", for example:

Six minutes past four (16:06)

In everyday situations, British English speakers tend to round times like this and say things like "It's nearly ten past four", or "It's just gone five past four". Obviously that would not be the case with a transport timetable.

For the reasons above, we would definitely include the word "minutes" in your example, if only because it is an "unrounded" number of minutes (not divisible by 5):

The train departs at 16 minutes past every hour.
The train departs at 16 minutes past each hour.

It is also idiomatic, when speaking about any hour, to say "past the hour", as in this example from MW dictionary:

Trains leave every hour at ten minutes past the hour.

  • I like the conclusion this answer comes to, but I think "Trains leave at ten minutes past each hour." would be a normal, acceptable alternative to the last phrase too - the "each" removes the need for "every hour", so it's more concise Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 12:10
  • @simonalexander2005 Thanks, although that is similar to the previous example using "every" instead of "each". Is it worth including?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 12:17
  • yeah, I don't know really. I like the plural on "Trains" because it's clearer that it's a recurrent event Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 13:06

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