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Punctuality – being ‘on time’ – is, of course, very important in all areas of life. We should be on time for work, appointments, meetings with friends, and so on. The expression ‘on time’ means to not be late: to reach a place (or do something) at the right moment. For example, students should always try to submit their compositions on time.

‘In time’ has a slightly different meaning. It means before the appointed time and is often used for deadlines. (A ‘deadline’ is the time before which something must be done.) So if the ‘deadline’ for your composition is Friday, and you submit it on Thursday, it has been submitted ‘in time’. If you submit it on Friday, we could either say it has been done ‘in time’ or ‘on time’. The opposite of both these expressions is ‘late’.

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If somebody is ‘wasting time’, it means they are not using their time productively – they should be doing something constructive rather than doing nothing. If somebody wastes time when they should be working, for example, they could find themselves ‘running out of time’: this means that they will soon have no more time in which to complete a project, etc. This could mean trouble with the boss! ‘Running out of time’ means there is still time left. ‘Out of time’ means no time left.

If you are ‘working against the clock’ – which means you are ‘short of time’ – you need to do things quickly in order to be finished on time.

Sometimes, things in life change ‘at the last minute’ (we can also say ‘at the eleventh hour’ – both expressions mean the same thing). This is when something happens just before a scheduled event that could potentially change – or will actually change – how things progress. Let’s say that Barça have agreed a deal to sign an exciting new player when, at the eleventh hour / at the last minute, the player decides to sign for Manchester City instead. This means that he would sign for City just before the deal with Barça was due to be completed.

If you wish to express a desire to get started on a project, to do something now rather than later, you can say ‘there’s no time like the present’.

When someone (or something) is ‘behind the times’ it means they are not familiar with the latest fashion, technology, culture, etc. This can apply to someone’s attitude, too – if someone holds old-fashioned views, we say they are behind the times.

When we want to express a long period of time, for example the period since something last happened, you can say it has been ‘donkey’s years’, e.g. ‘It’s been donkey’s years since I saw my best friend from school.’ Note that we use the preposition ‘since’ with this expression.

One final expression (though of course there are many others) that is commonly used in a positive way, when time moves more quickly than expected, is ‘Time flies!’ This comes from the Latin phrase tempus fugit. For example: ‘Time flies when you study at Callan School Barcelona!’

Try our blog test to see how you fare with some time-related idioms. Take your time! (i.e. don’t hurry!)

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Joe Crowley