10 North American Expressing time in relation to the following hour.
'it would be just a quarter of three in New York'

(from Lexico here)

What is "it"? 2:15 or 2:45? Lexico simply says that in this sense, 'of' "expresses time in relation to the following hour" without elaborating on this.

  • 1
    It should be: a quarter TO three. But some people say of three.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 '20 at 18:35
  • I don't see that in the link. A quarter to three means 2:45 or a quarter to or of three.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 '20 at 18:38
  • "the following hour" says exactly that, surely? "15 of three" is 15 minutes from the following hour. Is that not clear enough? Aug 2 '20 at 21:11
  • @PrimeMover I edited my question. I misspoke Aug 3 '20 at 7:01
  • 1
    it= is called a dummy pronoun. It is raining. It is snowing. It is time to leave because it's three o'clock. [or it's]
    – Lambie
    Aug 18 '20 at 15:06

The Lexico definition is unambiguous, though I'll admit that it's a bit wordy and hard to understand for learners.

As you said, the definition is:

"of" expresses time in relation to the following hour

If we use the actual values in the phrase "a quarter of three," then this means:

"of" expresses one quarter hour in relation to the following hour of 3:00

I've emphasized the following hour because this tells us that we are talking about the quarter-hour that precedes 3:00, which is 2:45.

A clearer definition could be:

"of" expresses a short time span before an hour

Note that even in AmE, this is a regionalism - it's common in the Northeast and rarer elsewhere. It comes very naturally to me because I grew up using it, but when I moved to Canada, I had to train myself not to say "five of nine" to mean 8:55 because nobody here understands this expression.

  • My grandmother (in the US) used to use a quarter of all the time. I remember when I was quite young having great difficulty understanding what it meant. For some reason, I never actually looked at a clock when she said it, but simply remained confused. I later did learn that when she (and others in the US) said a quarter of three, they actually meant a quarter to three, or 2:45. Aug 2 '20 at 19:09
  • @Lambie - This is not a useful complaint. What exactly do you find confusing and how could this answer be improved? Aug 3 '20 at 2:02
  • Look at the way I structured my answer. You start with the question, and go from there leaving the comments to the end. But now he has CHANGED the question.
    – Lambie
    Aug 3 '20 at 19:38
  • @Lambie - I think the reason you're getting downvotes is that you didn't address/explain the Lexico definition, which was in the OP's original question even before he changed it. Aug 4 '20 at 19:08
  • But I did. Look at my last line. I provided the principle of the thing.
    – Lambie
    Aug 4 '20 at 19:15

It’s 2:45.

A quarter of an hour before 3:00.

  • Whatever. I find it clunky.
    – Lambie
    Aug 3 '20 at 19:44

3:45 =

  • a quarter to four [one way to say it]
  • a quarter of four [another way to say it]
  • three forty five
  • a quarter to [the hour is left out sometimes]


  • a quarter past three
  • a quarter past
  • three fifteen

The OP changed his numbers. So, change yours accordingly and stop the downvotes which make no sense at all. These are standard ways to express time in English!

So, if it's 2:45, it's a quarter to three, etc.

It's 5 o'clock. It's 4:45. It is called a dummy pronoun found in sentences for time or the weather or general statements.


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