I would like to express the following times in Latin:

  1. "at four o'clock sharp"
  2. "every hour, on the hour"

I want to emphasize that the event takes place exactly on the hour. My dictionaries do not contain such time expressions, so I don't know if there is an idiomatic expression for these. Besides looking for something idiomatic, I want to make it as difficult as possible to misinterpret the times. The best translations I have come up with so far are these:

  1. hora quarta exacte
  2. quaque hora, hora ineunte/incipiente or quaque hora ineunte/incipiente

In the first one I also thought of hora quarta exacta, but I don't want to turn it into an absolute ablative corresponding to exigere; such interpretation might lead to "at the end of the fourth hour" or "not before five o'clock", so misinterpretation is too easy.

The Latin hora quarta can be thought of as "on the fourth hour" as well as "at four o'clock". Therefore I think a simple hora quarta does not express what I want to say in the first point. And even the English expression "at four o'clock" does not emphasize that something should happen exactly on the hour.

I know that hours were counted from a differently in antiquity than today, from dawn instead of midnight or noon. This is irrelevant for me here so you can ignore this problem; I believe the way of counting hours should be clear enough from context.

What translations would you suggest and why? If you suggestions are different from mine, can you explain why yours would be better?

3 Answers 3


I like exacte, though I worry that its similarity to "exactly" might be leading me to think it's closer to what you need than it actually is. It occurs to me that adamussim ("to the level") might also work for the first, but it's not a word I've seen many times in my reading so it could be less appropriate than I suspect.

Your second sentence implies to me a general period of time (that is, "around when the hour is starting") rather than something exact. I wonder whether ad cujusque horæ initium would do the trick.

  • Thanks! Adamussim is a new word for me. I can't tell if it's appropriate for a temporal expression like this, but it's a good word to know. I like ad cuiusque horae initium for the second one.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 8:15
  • Yeah, I don't know whether adamussim (also ad amussim — from amussis, rule, level) can be used temporally, but then again since we're talking about hours in a way the Romans wouldn't have, perhaps we can have some latitude? @C.M.Weimer probably knows. Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:05
  • 2
    As @joonas points, hora names seem to refer to both the whole period of an hour, and its very beginning. Another example is when Saint John uses hora quasi decima in his Gospel, which I've seen translated as about 4 o'clock. I wonder whether ipsissima hora quarta or hora quarta ipsissima also does the trick
    – Rafael
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 19:01
  • Following @Rafael’s suggestion - apparently, ipsum can be used with adv. of time: nunc ipsum / just now, at this very time; tum ipsum / just then, at that very time. I've also read nascentis tempus ad ipsum / the precise time of birth (Manilius, Astronomica, 224). It can also be used with numerals to mean exactly, precisely. So perhaps hora quarta ipsa?
    – Penelope
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 8:18

Take two!

I think to specify "at four o'clock on the dot", you might have to say something like "at the beginning of the fourth hour".

Using classic texts as a guide, some options are:

initio + gen. (see Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 7.15, "at the beginning of spring"), giving us: initio horae quartae

Caesar prefers an ablative absolute using inita. For example: inita hieme (Gallic War, 3.7) or inita secunda vigilia (ibid, 5.23). Thus, you could write: inita hora quarta

On the other hand, Ovid prefers principio + gen. (principio mensis, Fasti, 2.55). So, principio horae quartae

quaque hora is used in medicine for "each hour". This is abbreviated to q. and "take every hour" would be written "q1h" but of course that wouldn't suit your purposes! Rather, I have found two ways of saying "every hour".

horis singulis - see Celsus, On Medicine, 4.12 (take a glass of wine every hour) and Pliny, Natural History, 2.232 (a copious spring always swells up and sinks back again every hour).

Alternatively, there is omnibus horis or omni hora. Cicero is especially fond of this (see Letters to Brutus, 1.17; De Senecute, 75; Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino, 53.154) but it is also used by Lucan and Tacitus. However, while this means "every hour", it does have overtones of "any hour" or "all the time". Horis singulis, in contrast, does seem to be more specifically for "once every hour", as the examples above show.

So, my suggestion for "at four o-clock on the dot, every hour" is: inita hora quarta, horis singulis (with quaque hora for added emphasis if you like but I think singulus covers this)

  • Maybe horis singulis postea to be a bit more clear if it's something that starts at 4, then continues hourly after that.
    – Penelope
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 10:57
  • 2
    Aren't inita hieme and inita secunda vigilia ablative absolutes? "With winter having entered" is awkward in English, but I think that's what the grammar is doing. Not that that should change its use here, but it's good to note.
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 12:10
  • Oh, you're absolutely right (no pun intended), @C.M.Weimer, thanks for pointing it out. It was sloppy of me to overlook it (and the misspelling of hieme (thank you, Joonas Ilmavirta)). I've edited my answer a bit to make it more explicit. But it does still work, doesn't it? To be honest, prose comp was never my strong suit! :)
    – Penelope
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 2:50
  • 1
    Yep, it works, just nitpicking! :)
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 2:59

At least for your first request:

I heard (literally heard [from living-Latin person]), the expression in puncto that was used to mean "exactly". It was used to denote an exact amount of money (in order to avoid dealing with the change), something like: "Date mihi 12 Euros in puncto"

I think, though I can't confirm that, this expression was also used in the context of time, which will yield the kind of meaning you are looking for.

Doing some searching, several sites were found indeed seem to use this expression in context of time. such as this site:

Three o'clock on the dot is hora tertia in puncto.

I could not attest this from classical or even medieval sources (though a further research might do); Yet, it seems to be used and popular-enough today.

According to L&S, punctum can be used in the context of time when appended to temporis: to mean "the smallest portion of time, an instant, moment, point of time". So, at any case, this establishes that the derivation of current day "in puncto" (if indeed it is recent) is not so far-fetched.

  • I like in puncto. Lucretius is fond of the expression, as are others as a corpus search shows.
    – Figulus
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 6:42

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