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In time vs On time

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The phrases “in time” and “on time” are very similar in meaning and there is a subtle difference in their usage in English.

On time refers to ‘a specific time’ when something is supposed/expected to happen, and it is happening as planned.


I hardly ever get to school on time. (Meaning, if the school starts at 9:00 in the morning I get to school by 9:10 or latter!)

 My train is on time, so I’ll be at the train station at 5:00. (Meaning, that I will not get to the train station earlier or later than what I have planned)

If you don’t return the books on time, you should pay £5 penalty .(Meaning, that I need to return the books not later than due date as agreed)

airport board time

In time means doing something before a deadline, or doing it before it becomes unavailable.

I really wanted to see the Roger Waters concert but didn’t book my tickets in time. (Meaning, I didn’t book my tickets while they were on sale!)

We got to the airport in time for our flight. (Meaning, we didn’t miss their flight as we still had time to check in)

It is 6:45, hope we get to the surprise party in time. (Meaning, we are hoping to get to the party before the surprise party starts)

We often say “just in time” to emphasize that something happened very close to the limit/deadline
I got stuck in traffic and arrived just in time to catch my flight. (Meaning, I very close to miss our flight but I was lucky that I didn’t)

cronometer in hand