Here are two examples of context.

  1. Come at ten o'clock sharp.
  2. She said she was going to ring at nine a.m. sharp.

Does it mean "exactly"?


In this kind of sentence, sharp means exactly at that time. So don't come at five past ten (maybe we will have left by then!). In the second sentence the person said she was going to ring at nine a.m. on the dot. Not at five past nine.

The word sharp comes right after the time expression. It can't come before it:

  • She said she was going to ring at nine a.m. exactly.
  • She said she was going to ring at exactly nine a.m.
  • She said she was going to ring at nine a.m. sharp.
  • *She said she was going to ring at sharp nine a.m. (ungrammatical)
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    An equivalent phrase is "on the dot". – MikeTheLiar Mar 24 '15 at 16:05
  • Shouldn't we have an adverb after 9am , so it should be 'sharply'? – Anubhav Singh Jun 23 '16 at 2:53
  • @AnubhavSingh It is an adverb, and using sharply here would be a mistake. Not all adverbs end in -ly, although many do. – snailplane Jul 14 '18 at 22:56

I definitely say sharp and on the dot referring to any time. The plane departs at 10:25 sharp. Get here by 10:15 on the dot or we'll leave you behind.

Where I live, in Texas, and in my experience across many parts of the USA, this is common

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I think when the layman uses expressions like, “be there at 6PM sharp”, or “I ran a mile in 6 minutes flat”, they mean that time exactly.

However, I suspect that this usage is incorrect.

In music, A-Sharp (A♯) is just before A, and A-Flat (A♭) is just after A. Music theory used to be a part of classical education, and now it’s an elective.

I think years ago, when everyone was required to study music, if someone said “6PM Sharp” it would have meant, “just before 6PM”, and “6PM Flat” would have meant, “just after 6PM”. I believe this is the correct usage.

So, since nobody is required to learn musical theory now days, I think the expression is lost on people, so “6PM Sharp” has mistakenly come to mean “6PM on the dot”.

I could be wrong. Just a theory. Having studied music myself, I often wonder to myself if “sharp” and “flat” are actually supposed to mean “just before” and “just after”.

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yes, it means exactly (and precisely) at the time named, with a particular attention to the punctuality. Note that your sentence uses hours on the dot twice, but it could also be "ten fifty-five sharp"

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    I think "ten fifty-five sharp" would be unusual - it doesn't read right with a time that couldn't plausibly be inexact. So, hour or thirty. – Random832 Mar 24 '15 at 17:39
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    why wouldn't fifty-five be inexact (or inaccurate) ? "Sharp" is used to stress the punctuality, e.g. for a bus or a plane: if you are late, you miss it. – radouxju Mar 25 '15 at 7:02
  • Native speakers do not say 10:55 on the dot either. 'Sharp' and 'on the dot' refer to the top of the hour or the bottom of the hour. I agree with @Random832 For other times, we say 'exactly' or some such word. – user6951 Mar 25 '15 at 9:59
  • I suspect this is because at the hour or half hour, the hands on a clock are straight up and down. This is the only time we use 'sharp' or 'on the dot.' My flight arrives at 10 o'clock sharp. But not my flight arrives at 10:55 (or 3:43,etc) sharp or on the dot. So we have Idioms, but we also have when we use them. – user6951 Mar 25 '15 at 10:13
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    @radouxju As a native speaker, sharp can be any time e.g. 10:33 sharp 11:01 on the dot are both idiomatic. It specifies the exactness of the time. In addition the connotation of "sharp" is that there is a "cut-off" time beyond which you are too late. – Ben May 27 '17 at 7:57

It’s basically like you can’t make exceptions for after that time for example 9am sharp is 9:00 unlike “be here at 9am, because in that context you can be there at whatever time at 9, like 9:05 or 9:15

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