Which one is correct ─ "on time" or "in time"? Are both correct? If so, when is one or the other used? This has been very confusing to me. I have tried to thrash out a simple rule when one or the other could be used: "in time" could be used when you are able to take a one-off action (say "x") within due time; but, when "x" is not a one-off action ─ that is to say, is a continuous-kind of action ─ you use "on time" (or, in certain cases, even "before time") to say that "x" has been done within due time. The rule could be further explained by taking example of a train. When you refer to the running of a train, you say that the train is running "on time"; but when refer to the reaching of the train a particular station, you say the train reached the station "in time". I do not know if I am correct. Can anyone tell me if I am correct?

  • If you get to the station in time for the 5:10, you can be on time for the party.
    – Jim
    Nov 27 '15 at 18:19
  • 3
    They're both valid, but on time can mean neither too late nor too early, whereas in time only ever means not too late. So that can impart a nuance of difference in any given context. Also, on time normally implies at the appointed time, whereas you can be in time for something that you either didn't know was going to happen at all, or which didn't have an exact "scheduled" time. Nov 27 '15 at 18:23
  • I am voting to close this question as their meanings could be easily found in the dictionary or on the internet.
    – user24743
    Nov 27 '15 at 18:53
  • To Rathony: Sir, I have edited the question to explain how my question is different from one which is already there on this site. Nov 28 '15 at 15:44

Both are correct. For instance, "The firemen got to the burning house just in time," versus "I arrived at my job interview on time." "On time" is often clock time, while "in time" is less specific.

You might say, "With his Alzheimer's progressing rapidly, my grandfather was lost in time." While, "In time, they will learn not to criticize their elders."

  • 'just in time' is closer than 'in time'.
    – Maulik V
    Dec 1 '15 at 4:52

! "On time" - there is an expected time. We are meeting friends for dinner at 7. I hope we will be on time and we don't make them wait for us.

"In time" - there is a deadline. If we are past this deadline, we will miss the chance to do something. The show starts at 8 p.m. and no one is admitted after the show starts. I hope we will make it to the theater in time


There's a subtle difference.

Suppose the train's departure time is 1800 hr from Station A.

If you ask whether the train is running late, you may get an answer like:

No, the train is on time.

This means the train's departure time is 1800 hr (spot on). It is not late.

On the other hand, 'in time' means reaching the destination within the time. It is not reaching on DOT 1800 hr.

Say, if you reach the station by 1745 hr, you may say...

Yeah, I reached station in time.

'in' talks about a scope of reaching the station. You don't miss the train.

But if you sit in the train, and in a next moment, it starts leaving the platform, you reached (spot) on time.

If you miss the train, you may say -

I missed the train. I could not reach on time.

We often hear that I am reaching in 5 minutes which defines the scope of reaching within 5 minutes.

  • I do not subscribe to the view that "in time" means reaching "before time". Suppose, a train is to reach a station at x time. Even if the train reaches at x time (and not even a bit before), the train is not beyond x time. So, the train is "in time". Accepting your answer will mean: "in" = "before". Nov 30 '15 at 18:48
  • You are free to not subscribe to this! But 'on' means spot on; 'in' means within specified limit in such cases. If the time is clearly defined for arrival or departure, it is always on time. When we specify something, it is 'on'. What do you see on the schedule boards at airports and stations? 'ON or IN'? The flight arrives in 5 minutes. It cannot mean dot 5:00 minute. It means within/in the scope of 5 minutes. If you want 'in time' to mean 'on time' i.e. spot on, it requires one more word which is quite popular - just in time.
    – Maulik V
    Dec 1 '15 at 4:51

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