A Quarter To Four: Definition, Meaning And Origin

Last Updated on
June 28, 2023

The meaning of “a quarter to four” is straightforward. It simply means that it is 15 minutes until four o’clock. The phrase is often used in place of saying “3:45” and is a common way of indicating the time.

In short:

"A quarter to four" is a shorthand way of expressing the time 3:45.

What Does "A Quarter to Four" Mean?

The phrase "a quarter to four" means that the time is 3:45, or 15 minutes before 4:00. In other words, there are 15 minutes remaining until the clock strikes four. The term "quarter" in this idiom refers to a quarter-hour, which is equal to 15 minutes. This expression is used when speaking informally to give the rough time in a casual way.

Here are the key points about its meaning:

  • It indicates the time is 3:45, a quarter hour or 15 minutes before four o'clock.
  • The phrase is used primarily in casual conversation to give an approximate time in an informal manner.
  • The word "quarter" refers to 15 minutes, a quarter of an hour.

Where Does "A Quarter to Four" Come From?

The phrase "a quarter to four" originates from the practice of telling time in quarters, a concept dating back centuries. This method divided the hour into four parts, with "a quarter to" referring to the last quarter-hour before the full hour. The usage of this phrase reflects the precision and accuracy of timekeeping in English-speaking cultures.

Historical Example

"The members who first arrived of course immediately presented their tickets and demanded entrance, but this the porter refused, saying he had orders to let "no person" in until a quarter to four."

-The Lancet London, 1831

10 Examples of "A Quarter to Four" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • We planned to meet at the park at a quarter to four, but I arrived a bit early.
  • The school bell rings at a quarter to four, signaling the end of the day.
  • Because of the relentless rain, they reached the drive-through at a quarter to four.
  • The movie starts at a quarter to four, so we should hurry to get good seats.
  • I will go to yoga class from quarter to four, then to the diner, and so on and so forth.
  • The conference call is scheduled for a quarter to four, just before we wrap up for the day.
  • Being out and about at a quarter to four in the morning felt oddly liberating to her.
  • It was a quarter to four when the power went out in our neighborhood.
  • The party starts at quarter to four, and she thought of giving him a gag gift.
  • It was my bad for forgetting that the meeting was supposed to start at a quarter to four.

Examples of "A Quarter to Four" in Pop Culture

Though not as frequently as other idioms, "a quarter to four" can appear in pop culture, often used to denote suspense or anticipation tied to the time.

Let's explore some instances:

  • “Quarter to Four” is a song by the American rock band Roxanne. The song was released in 2019 and is part of their album “Radio Silence.”
  • The song "Quarter to Four" by Barrett Baber is a slow, emotional ballad about a relationship that is coming to an end.
  • A quote from the 2002 book "The Beloved Dearly" by Doug Cooney: "Ernie referred to his notebook with a professional air and announced, "The deceased arrives with the client at a quarter to four."
  • In the documentary "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" (2005), Dave sings, "I woke up this morning, 'bout quarter to four. Went back to sleep, and I woke up... at... eight."

Other/Different Ways to Say "A Quarter to Four"

Other ways to express "a quarter to four" can involve varying the structure while keeping the same meaning:

Here are some of them:

  • Three forty-five
  • Fifteen minutes to four
  • Fifteen before four
  • Fifteen till four
  • 3:45
  • Quarter of four (less common)

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "A Quarter to Four":

  • What does "a quarter to four" mean?

"A quarter to four" is a phrase referring to the time 15 minutes before four o'clock.

  • How can I use "a quarter to four" in a sentence?

You can use "a quarter to four" to reference a specific time, e.g., "The train is due to arrive at a quarter to four."

  • Where does the phrase "a quarter to four" come from?

The phrase is a product of the method of telling time in quarters, a tradition that goes back centuries, and denotes the last quarter-hour before the full hour.

  • Can "a quarter to four" be used for any time before the hour, like "a quarter to six"?

Yes, the idiom can be used with any hour to indicate 15 minutes before that time. For example: A quarter to six (5:45) and a quarter to eleven (10:45).

  • Can the phrase be used for times after the hour, like "a quarter after four"?

No, "a quarter to four" only means 15 minutes before the hour. To indicate 15 minutes after the hour, you would say "a quarter after four" or "four fifteen".

  • Is "a quarter to four" used in formal or informal situations?

The phrase can be used in both formal and informal contexts as it primarily denotes a specific time.

  • Are there alternative phrases to "a quarter to four"?

Yes, alternatives include "three forty-five" or "fifteen minutes to four".

  • Does "a quarter to four" suggest any cultural significance?

Not particularly, it is primarily a functional phrase used for timekeeping.

  • Is "a quarter to four" formal or informal?

"A quarter to four" is an informal idiom, typically used in casual speech or writing. It would usually not be appropriate for very formal contexts.

  • Is "a quarter to four" commonly used in everyday language?

Yes, it is a common way of expressing time, especially in English-speaking countries where the "quarter" system is prevalent.

Final Thoughts About "A Quarter to Four"

The phrase "a quarter to four" is a straightforward, functional phrase used to indicate a specific time—15 minutes before four o'clock. 

Here's a quick recap:

  • The term primarily indicates a particular time of the day, i.e., 15 minutes before four.
  • The phrase is widely used in both formal and informal contexts thanks to its clear and functional meaning.

The idiom remains a staple of English language timekeeping and a useful phrase for precise communication.

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