Happy New Year! Is Midnight 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.?

Closeup of hands on clock face

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, will it be 12 p.m. or 12 a.m.?

I say neither. It will simply be midnight, just as 12 in the middle of the day is simply noon.

But not everyone agrees. Here’s how timeanddate.com explains it:

Most analog clocks today keep time in 12-hour increments — they divide the 24 hours in a day in to 12-hour periods.

The first period of the day is called “ante meridian,” which means before noon in Latin. The second period is called “post meridian,” meaning after noon in Latin.

Ante meridian is commonly denoted as AM, am or A.M., while post meridiem is usually denoted as PM, pm or P.M.

Each hour, except midnight, which is also denoted as 0:00, and noon, which is known as 12:00, are suffixed by AM or PM to identify whether the hour being referred to is in the morning, afternoon or evening.

Confused? I am!

The first reference that appears when I Google which to use, 12 a.m. or 12 p.m., yields this by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

By convention, 12 AM denotes midnight and 12 PM denotes noon. Because of the potential for confusion, it is advisable to use 12 noon and 12 midnight.

But a post on Grammarphobia concurs with The Associated Press Stylebook’s recommendation — and with me:

We agree that “12 a.m.” and “12 p.m.” are confusing and should be avoided, but one could also argue that “12 noon” and “12 midnight” are redundant. Why not simply say “noon” and “midnight”?

You can decide how you want to express 12 o’clock, the point at which a new year begins. I’ll stick with the clarity suggested by The Associated Press Stylebook and with which Grammarphobia concurs:

midnight. Do not put a 12 in front of it. It is the part of the day that is ending, not the one that is beginning.

For continuing insight on elements of words and punctuation, be sure you’re signed up for my Killer Tips from a Ruthless Editor (upper right of this post). You don’t want to miss a single word or punctuation tip in 2016.

And please tell your friends and colleagues.

Happy New Year!

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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