Does Time Have a Point?


One of the most common phrases you’ll hear in English is, “At this point in time.” What does it actually mean? Is it grammatically correct, or is there a better way of saying it?

I’m not here to discuss the physics of time, or theories (real and fanciful) related to spacetime continuums and all that wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. It’s just that, for years, I’ve been irritated by the pervasive use, and misuse, of a phrase which I’ve always felt isn’t exactly proper. At the risk of once again playing grammar police, let’s explore this popular idiom.

At this point in time is an expression meaning at this moment or, more succinctly, currently. The phrase implies that the way things are at present may change. It is this element of changeability and uncertainty which makes the phrase so useful in English. If you don’t like my answer, come back tomorrow because I may have a different one for you then.

At this point in time, the New England Patriots are the most successful team in the National Football League. The statement implies that they weren’t as successful in the past, and they may not be in the future.

The phrase is also often shortened to At this point, or even At this time, and is frequently misspoken as At this point of time. You may even hear the expression At this juncture. Juncture originally was defined as a physical place where two or more things joined. So, this phrase would more accurately mean where we currently are, and implies that there are alternatives to the present situation. Not quite the same thing.

Whichever idiom you choose, there is one inescapable fact – it’s unnecessarily wordy. If you alter the previous example by substituting at this point in time with the single word currently, you have a cleaner and more concise sentence.

Currently, the New England Patriots are the most successful team in the National Football League.

Nothing changes. The implication that the statement is changeable is still present. Just because something is commonly accepted, and grammatically correct, does not mean that it is preferable.

Oh, and about that example I used. Sports teams are referred to in the plural, even if the name is not pluralized. The Miami Heat, a basketball team, is still plural when you are discussing them as a team, and not as a franchise or organization.

The Miami Heat are currently having their best winning streak in years.

The Miami Heat organization is still trying to find itself after several losing seasons.

So, my example of pluralizing the New England Patriots as a team was grammatically correct. At least, as of right now.

 

Photo by DeLerkim on Flickr

 

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This article, Does Time Have a Point?, first appeared on English Language Blog.