How Do I Write the Time of the Day?
A lot of writers are unsure how to go about writing the time of day. I think part of the reason for this is that there are several correct ways in which time can be written. Because we do not always see time written in the same format, it is easy to forget which formats are acceptable and which are not.
This article answers the three most common questions that people have about writing the time of day.
1) Which is correct: AM/PM, A.M./P.M., am/pm, or a.m./p.m.?
There are two acceptable ways to write these abbreviations.
The first is to use lowercase letters with periods after each letter. The other correct way is to use uppercase letters with no periods. When using the uppercase format, the convention is to decrease the font size of the letters. For either format, always put a space before the a or p.
Correct: 7:00 p.m., 7:00 PM
Incorrect: 7:00 pm, 7:00 P.M., 7:00 PM, 7:00p.m., 7:00PM
2) Should I write out the time in words or should I use numerals?
For works of non-fiction, the answer is simple. Use numerals (e.g., 8:00). Some style guides recommend using a.m./p.m., and others recommend using AM/PM, so make sure you check whichever style guide you are working with.
In fiction, the answer to our question depends on the situation. It depends on who is giving the time.
If the narrator is giving the time, the time should be given in a way that best suits the narrator’s general tone. If the narrator is given little personality, the numeral format makes sense. If the narrator is given some personality, or if a character is giving the time while speaking, phrases such as “five o’clock ,” “5 o’clock” “five in the morning, “six-thirty,” “half past six,” or “six-thirty-ish” are more suitable than the numeral format.
As you can see, there are many ways that a writer can express time in a work of fiction. Two methods for writing time that I would avoid, though, are (a) spelling out the number with letters and following it with a.m. or p.m., and (b) writing a single digit.
“Five p.m.” looks a bit strange (or is that just me?)
“5 p.m.” is okay in informal writing (e.g., on a party invitation for friends), but is generally not recommended
“I got there at around 5,” is not recommended. It would be better to spell out “five” or to write “5:00.”
3) What is the convention for writing midnight and noon?
It is common knowledge that midnight is 12:00 AM and that noon is 12:00 PM.
Alas, this is a situation in which common knowledge is wrong. This is actually something I didn’t know until I began researching for this article. Technically, both midnight and noon are neither a.m. nor p.m.
12:00 AM and 12:00 PM are used so commonly to denote midnight and noon that you can get away with using them. However, if you are the kind of person who takes pride in doing things the technically correct way, you should use the words “midnight” and “noon” to express these two times of the day.
Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.