He [Harry] stopped a passing guard, but didn't dare mention platform nine and three-quarters. The guard had never heard of Hogwarts and when Harry couldn't even tell him what part of the country it was in, he started to get annoyed, as though Harry was being stupid on purpose.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What does ‘guard’ mean: 9 or 20 in a dictionary or any other?
9.a person or group of persons that guards, protects, or keeps a protective or restraining watch.
20. British . a railroad conductor.

  • It could be both. I would take platform as meaning the part of the train station, and in that case guard would mean "a railroad conductor." I find strange that the platform seems named after an hour, thought. – kiamlaluno Apr 18 '13 at 13:10
  • @kiamlaluno The platform number is a joke. Railway platforms, at least in the UK, are generally numbered so you have Platform 1, Platform 2, etc. The train to Hogwarts departs from a hidden platform between Platforms 9 & 10 known as Platform 9 and three quarters. – Nigel Harper Apr 18 '13 at 13:14
  • I guess that you read the book, since I don't get the joke from the few quoted sentences. – kiamlaluno Apr 18 '13 at 13:19
  • @kiamlaluno "Nine and three-quarters" is not a time designation in English. 9:45 would be "a quarter to [or til or of] ten. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 20 '13 at 1:45
  • @StoneyB That is why I wrote "seems named." ;) – kiamlaluno Apr 21 '13 at 5:55

There's a lot of scope for confusion over this (British English) usage for the word guard, which isn't necessarily resolved by saying...

BrE guard = AmE conductor
a railway train crew member responsible for operational and safety duties that do not involve actual operation of the train.

(another AmE definition, from the Railroad Jobs Guide)
Railroad conductors examine schedules, switching orders, bill of ladings, and shipping records. On passenger trains they are responsible for the passengers and crew.

I'm not sure there is an AmE equivalent to BrE guard in this context. Essentially, all uniformed railway staff in the UK may be called guards - except when they're actually working on a train, in which case they're usually called ticket inspectors or sometimes conductors (or drivers, where appropriate, obviously!).

In OP's context, neither Harry (the fictional character) nor JK Rowling (the British author) would know or care exactly what job title the "guard" was actually employed as. So far as they're concerned, he's just any uniformed employee that passengers can reasonably treat as a representative of the company, when asking a simple railway-related question such as "Where can I find the train to Hogwarts?".

TL;DR: BrE guard approximately corresponds to AmE railroad conductor. There's no special implication that any specific guard has any security-related duties, but obviously some do.

  • Thank you. The Korean translation book for Harry Potter translated ‘guard’ into ‘역무원’ link(station employees) – this is exactly the same as what you described in Korea. Before you gave your words, I still thought ‘역무원’ is the translator’s personal interpretation. Although there are lots of mistakes, she’s now given my one point owing to you. – Listenever Apr 19 '13 at 2:35
  • 1
    "Essentially, all uniformed railway staff in the UK are called guards" - do you have anything to back that up? It's certainly not my experience as a native British English speaker. A guard is one form of uniformed railway staff but certainly not the only one which the language recognises. – Nigel Harper Apr 19 '13 at 22:08
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I agree with you that the meaning in context is simply a uniformed rail employee of indeterminate function. However your answer goes beyond this context and claims that this usage is common in British English. This is what I question. In my experience the term is generally used for someone with duties similar to an American train conductor and it is not common for other uniformed rail staff to be called guards. – Nigel Harper Apr 19 '13 at 23:00
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers That Wikipedia link also includes a description of British guards, strongly implying a similarity exists. It says "the person with ultimate responsibility for operation of a train is usually called the guard" and "Their jobs focused more on safe operation of their trains, timekeeping, handling parcels, and other consignments. A dedicated 'travelling ticket inspector' handled fare duties. In recent years, passenger train guards have been assigned more responsibility for on-train revenue collection and ticket inspection." – Nigel Harper Apr 19 '13 at 23:30
  • 1
    "You have learned something. That always feels as if you have lost something." - Bernard Shaw ... But I can remember being confused by the term "guard" as a child reading British novels, until I realized that it meant "conductor". It was not until now that I discovered how much a guard/conductor does in addition to punching tickets and discovering dead bodies in sleeping compartments. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 20 '13 at 1:41

Given the context (that Harry is in a station looking for a train) it's meaning 20, what is known in American English as a railroad conductor. Obviously in this case one who is not currently on a train.


Since the next sentence is "Getting desperate, Harry asked for the train that left at eleven o'clock, but the guard said there wasn't one." I would say that guard means "train conductor."
I imagine the protagonist is in a train station, and asks to the train conductor information about the trains.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.