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A native Anglophone lady is showing around her house on TV. When they walk into a room, there is a big clock on the wall, and she points at the clock and says:

"That is not the time."

I understand that the clock has run out of the battery (she also says this), so the clock is not showing the correct time.

However, I would never be able to make up such a sentence as a non-native speaker. I would probably say ""The clock is not correct.".

So, I searched for the sentence on google, whether it is common to mean the clock is not working, but I could not find any. So, I am kind of surprised.

Also, the sentence "That is not the time" reminds me a meaning such as "It is not the time to play/to eat/to drink/to sleep etc" which is used to warn someone not to do whatever it is they are doing at the wrong time or place.

So, is the sentence "That is not the time" an idiomatic way of saying that a clock is not showing the correct time?

Here is the link. She says the sentence at on 3:10

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  • 3
    If you know the clock, you'd probably say That clock's ten minutes fast / an hour slow. If you've no idea how much it's wrong by, you might say That clock's wrong (or maybe ...doesn't work if you've been aware of it for long enough to notice that the hands aren't moving at all). Feasibly That clock's not showing the right time, but that's a bit "wordy". If it's known that the battery has run down, maybe That clock has stopped. Compare My watch has stopped (because I didn't wind it up). Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 18:55
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    "That is not the time" doesn't sound like what I would say as a native speaker. I'd probably say "That clock's wrong", like FumbleFingers, or maybe "That's clock's off." She might have meant something like "That (time that is indicated on the clock) is not the (real) time", though.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 19:30
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    I'm a native New Yorker (City); I'd think nothing of saying - or hearing - "That's not the time" when referring to a clock that's wrong. I'd think it only a little odd to hear "That is not the time" simply because it's unusual to not hear the "is" contracted with the "That" - or, alternatively, with the "not" ("That isn't the time"). Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 19:42
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    If it has "run out of battery" (a flat battery), the clock has stopped. Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 20:43
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    "The clock is not correct" isn't wrong but "The clock's not right" is more colloquial. There are, as other people indicate, lots of ways of saying this.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 21:31

5 Answers 5

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We would be more likely to say 'That's not the right time', or 'that clock is wrong'. If the clock is running, but the time shown is behind the correct time, we can say 'that clock is slow', and if the time shown is ahead of the correct time, we can say 'that clock is fast'.

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    "That clock is wrong" works in any case. But "That's not the right time" would be more idiomatic to be said by someone realising the clock is wrong for the first time, rather than by someone who already knows the clock is wrong. This is because a clock that's wrong will basically always show the wrong time, so focusing on the current time being wrong is overly specific.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 13:39
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    Possibly of note, saying a clock is fast or slow is partly ambiguous. It could either mean that it is ahead or behind the correct time, or that it is actually running/ticking faster or slower than it should be, with the second meaning being the most common cause of the first meaning (hence this usage of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’). Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 20:45
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    @AustinHemmelgarn - agreed but I think that at least from my experience starting before digital or electronic clocks were common, saying 'that clock is slow/fast' upon first noting a discrepancy in the time shown by a newly-seen clock generally means the first. The clock could be running at the right rate but merely set wrong. Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 22:04
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    @NotThatGuy - 'a clock that's wrong will basically always show the wrong time' - not always. A clock that is stopped is right once every 12 hours and one that gains or loses 1 minute every day will be right every 720 days. Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 8:01
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    @MichaelHarvey is right. With modern clocks (digital or with hands) "fast" seems to always mean "ahead of the real time". If it started at the right time but got ahead of what it should show, "running fast" would be more appropriate, or "gaining...", specifying how much it gains. My grandparents fully mechanical clocks were sometimes described as "running fast"
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 9:28
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The idiomatic expression is that clock is off.

The use of "off" in this way matches the 3rd adjective definition on this Merriam-Webster page:

not corresponding to fact : INCORRECT

Other expressions that use "off" in this manner are "my calculations are off" (differing from the expected value) or "my balance is off" (not centered).

This could cause some ambiguity between the clock being unpowered vs. incorrect. But since clocks are almost always intended to be powered, the meaning is will usually be clear from context. (A clock that is unpowered or broken is usually called "stopped": Your clock has stopped.)

Here are some web pages demonstrating this usage:

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    All of those references are to computer internal clocks, in a context where the message is that computer clock is working but wrong, and is offset (off) by a certain amount of time (even the first one, if you follow the link). Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 7:29
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    @RandyOrrison That's just because people don't have other clocks any more. Off doesn't strictly mean offset, it can also just mean not where/when it's supposed to be (e.g. "off schedule"). Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:27
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    This answer surprises me. It's certainly not idiomatic where I live. In fact, if somebody pointed to a clock on the wall and said "that clock is off", I'd interpret that to mean that it's an electric clock that has been switched off, in other words, it's not running at all. In what region is "the clock is off" idiomatic, meaning "showing the incorrect time"? Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 18:47
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    @Dawood ibn Kareem I'm from Pennsylvania in the US. I grew up in the 1970s, so the expression was not limited to computer or even digital clocks. The expression wasn't limited to clocks. Pretty much any measuring device could be said to be "off." For example, you could say your "My speedometer is off" if it wasn't measuring correctly. Or "That thermometer is off" if it was reading high or low. We would say an analog clock was "stopped" if it wasn't moving, or "Your clock is out" if a digital clock display was blank. Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 20:47
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    @RandyOrrison it is used for non-computer clocks - but I've only ever come across it in the sense of "off by [some margin]".
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 9:22
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There are excellent answers already, and it's worth adding that "What's the time?" or "Have you got the time?" is a slightly old fashioned way of asking "What time is it?". So the woman's "That's not the time" seems to be a natural corollary. I wonder how old the woman was...

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  • I think it would be a little more common to say "That's not the correct time".
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:55
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    I don’t think What’s the time? is old-fashioned at all, at least in my experience (mostly UK-based).
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 12:03
  • “Have you got the time?” isn’t (directly) asking the same thing as “What time is it?”. The latter is a straightforward request to be told the current time; the former asks someone whether they have a watch available. It’s only implied that the purpose of that question is to be informed of the current time (though of course that is the question most people would actually answer). Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 16:41
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    When I was younger, if someone said 'Have you got the time?' a jocular response might be 'Yes, if you've got the money'. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 11:33
  • Perhaps why that fell out of favor @MichaelHarvey :) Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 15:36
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In English, there is a humorous way to express how a clock's time is incorrect, though it only applies if the clock is stopped. In such a case, we can say the clock is right twice each day!

If you don't understand, it is because the "stopped time" on a 12-hour clock matches reality once in the AM and once in the PM. For cultural learning, it is useful to remember that this concept is more typically used to highlight how sometimes people are right about things but not because they are a trustworthy source. For example, person A might say, "I bet that guy is a very knowledgeable sports fan. He predicted that Argentina would win the FIFA World Cup in 2022!" Person B might retort, "Yeah, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day." In the USA, practically everybody has heard this idiom.

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It sounds a bit like an internal conversation (with the clock).

A bit like a carpenter muttering “huh, that’s no good” rather than saying “this chisel is not sharp”.

“That clock is wrong” is what you would tell someone, if you thought it was any of your business and/or that the person you were talking to might care.

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  • Hi Colin! Please read through the other answers before answering. Your option has already been mentioned.
    – Joachim
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 15:24

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