Punctual, prompt, and on time

Punctuality is valued differently everywhere it seems, but here in the Netherlands, it is valued! Time is money, right? Maybe you’re turning over a new leaf this year and trying to be on time more often. How do you talk about it?

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Punctual and prompt are used in slightly different ways.

Punctual means arriving exactly at the appointed time.

We expect guests to be punctual at meals.

He is not a particularly punctual person.

You can use on time in almost the same way, but you can’t use it just before a noun.

We expect guests to be on time at meals.

He is not a particularly on time person. He is usually not on time.

Prompt means punctual, but it also means doing something quickly, without delay.

He answered the phone promptly.

She responded promptly to my inquiry.

Thanks for your prompt reply!

Now, if you’re going to start being on time, there are a few more words you need: sharp and on the dot. They both mean “exactly, precisely” and are used with time.

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This is what 6:00 on the dot looks like.

The meeting starts at 9 o’clock sharp.

We’ll see you at 6 o’clock on the dot. Please don’t be late.

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