What is the word that describes all the devices that express time?

  • 10
    Can you provide the context that you want to use such a word?
    – James K
    Jul 3, 2021 at 15:26
  • 3
    I agree with @JamesK you definitely need to supply the context for the word, is it for a story, a website, a shop? Or are you fueled by simple curiosity?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 3, 2021 at 16:35
  • 6
    "Timepiece" is the best option. Your objection seems meaningless, since (as @JamesK pointed out) a sundial is also a device that expresses time. Don't expect there to be a word with a meaning that you come up with, unless it is a common enough meaning that other people want to convey.
    – user21820
    Jul 4, 2021 at 20:32
  • 4
    @Shuvo: The word "especially" does not mean the same thing as "exclusively." A timepiece can have a bell, it's just that the word is sometimes used to specifically mean a device without a bell.
    – Kevin
    Jul 5, 2021 at 1:28
  • 2
    @ChrisH, you look at a watch and then say that it is ten o'clock, not on the watch, so one could expect clock to be a more general term. Of course, languages are not always logical, and it is common that they differ in how general the most common word for a thing is. I was just trying to say that it is not unreasonable to be a bit surprised by English in this case.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 6, 2021 at 8:11

3 Answers 3



noun: chronometer; plural noun: chronometers

an instrument for measuring time, especially one designed to keep accurate time in spite of motion or variations in temperature, humidity, and air pressure

I believe this is the largest category that encompasses every possible device whose function is to measure the passing of time.

"Timepiece" is the one that probably best describes the familiar kinds of time-keeping devices that a layperson is likely to encounter. And, to JamesK's point, there really is a staggering diversity of sub-species; in very many contexts, a more-precise term is better.

"Chronometer" is also what people call expensive watches. But, the expensive watch market is driven by a relatively small group of fabulously rich people who have more money than anyone could possibly spend in a lifetime, and we should not let their peacocking co-opt this term.

More usefully, anybody whose life literally depends on accurate timekeeping (e.g. divers and astronauts, who have to ration breathable atmosphere), will insist on a "chronometer," but those don't need to cost $100,000 (yes, really).

  • 7
    I feel this is the answer to a different question. A chronometer is a very specific kind of timepiece - it's one that's extremely accurate despite fluctuations in temperature and pressure. It's absolutely not the general term for an object that measures time; which is "timepiece". That's what OP was asking for. Jul 5, 2021 at 6:09
  • 2
    "Chronometer is what people call expensive watches" in much the same way as "formula one is what people call expensive cars". There are specific technical requirements for something to be a chronometer, and while mechanical watches which meet those requirements are expensive, the requirements are not based on the cost. Jul 5, 2021 at 10:20
  • 2
    I don't know about astronauts, but as far as safety is concerned, a diver would be well enough served with any old watch that kept time to within a minute a day.
    – TonyK
    Jul 5, 2021 at 20:21
  • 1
    @Shuvo Only according to buyers and sellers in that market; but they don't get to decide what our terms mean. The word is properly applied to any device whose function is to measure the passage of time. I believe there is no broader term for such devices: it includes all of them, regardless of their form, and it does so by reference to their nature as timekeeping devices.
    – Tom
    Jul 6, 2021 at 22:17
  • 2
    @Shuvo "Timepiece" is definitely the best answer. I originally came here to post that word, and then saw that it had already been suggested. I added "chronometer" for completeness, in case some future user has needs different from yours. "Timepiece" is narrower: it generally refers to personal possessions, from worn items to furniture like grandfather clocks. It might be kind of weird to call a giant atomic clock a "timepiece."
    – Tom
    Jul 7, 2021 at 16:53


An instrument, such as a clock or watch, that measures, registers, or records time

[The Free Dictionary]

a device (such as a clock or watch) to measure or show progress of time

[Merriam Webster]

  • 5
    I'd add that this word really is used, in cases where all we care about is some way of telling the time: "what did they use for timepieces?" or "my only timepiece is my cellphone". Jul 3, 2021 at 15:58
  • 5
    No one, ever, asked: "What time does the timepiece on the wall say?” vs "What time does the clock say?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 3, 2021 at 16:33
  • 3
    Timepiece is technically correct but most people would find it very weird to hear a phone described as a timepiece.
    – eps
    Jul 3, 2021 at 21:27
  • 20
    @eps It's uncommon and weird to need a word for "any device which tells time". But when you do, "timepiece" is the not-weird way of saying it. Jul 3, 2021 at 21:33
  • 7
    @eps A timepiece is a device explicitly designed to tell time. A phone includes that function, but that's not its explicit function
    – gotube
    Jul 3, 2021 at 21:46

There are words (gotube gives "timepiece") but these are relatively rare and technical. I suspect that in your language the distinction isn't usually made, and you are want to translate a sentence that uses this ambiguity from your language to English.

But if you write "I'm going to get my daughter a timepiece for her birthday." It will be very odd, even if it is the literal translation. "Timepiece" is technical and rather dated. It is used by people who insist that a "clock" must have a "bell" (see the etymology for why). If you want to write in natural sounding English, either choose "watch" or choose "clock", or write "watch or clock" (and perhaps rephrase).

I'm going to get my daughter a clock for her birthday, or perhaps a watch.

So this is my point. In English, watches, clocks, sundials and hourglasses are all "different", but "wallclocks" and "mantelpiece clocks" are types of clock. Wristwatch and pocket watch are types of watch. In other languages perhaps "watches" and "mantlepiece clocks" are the same, but wall clocks and sundials are different. Or "hourglasses" and "sundials" are the same, but watches are different... etc.

A "timepiece" is relatively technical term for sundials, clocks, watches: any device that lets you know the time. A clock is a large timepiece that may be hung on the wall, or stand on the floor or on a shelf. A watch is small timepiece that fits in a pocket or on a wrist. Clocks don't need to have chimes (even though their name comes from the Latin for "bell") and watches don't need to have alarms (despite the etymology). Timepieces can have bells or alarms, although the word is sometimes used by people who limit the word "clock" to "timepiece with a bell".

So, my advice: Use either "watch" or "clock" as appropriate.

And note that most young people actually don't use watches, they use their phone to tell the time.

  • 11
    I would note that 'timepiece' can be used to project an air of luxury when speaking about expensive items, such that the birthday example could actually be heard in some circles.
    – Tashus
    Jul 3, 2021 at 17:08
  • 18
    "Timepiece" is neither rare nor technical
    – MPW
    Jul 4, 2021 at 3:40
  • 2
    It is technical in comparison to "clock".
    – James K
    Jul 4, 2021 at 9:09
  • 8
    Timepiece is not technical. Chronograph is technical.
    – barbecue
    Jul 4, 2021 at 13:49
  • 4
    @Kevin: It's rarer than "clock" or "watch" for sure, but it's hardly obscure. As for being rare in an absolute sense, it depends where you draw that boundary! (It helps that it's a self-explanatory portmanteau of two simple words so there's little risk of misunderstanding, but I think it's a word that a good fraction native speakers will have actually heard before.) Finding it in a crossword puzzle wouldn't annoy me at all since it doesn't seem obscure. (And to add my 2 cents: it's not "technical".) Jul 5, 2021 at 4:37

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