Are, Hour, and Our: How to Choose the Right Word

These terms sound the same but differ greatly in grammatical form and meaning

Man touching the hands of a clock

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The short words "are," "hour," and "our" sound similar, but their meanings are not the same. The verb "are" is a present tense form of "to be." The noun "hour" refers to a period of 60 minutes or a particular time of the day or night. The adjective (or possessive determiner) "our" is the possessive form of "we."

How to Use "Hour"

Merriam-Webster defines "hour" as "the 24th part of a day: 60 minutes." When you use this term in its literal sense, you might say, "I have to be there in an hour," meaning, "I have to be there in 60 minutes."

However, the term has more abstract uses as well, such as "lunch hour" and "hour of need." Such uses may indicate a time period that may or may not actually be 60 minutes. For example, Howie Carr, in "Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano," wrote:

"In the after-hours joint, everything was served in plastic cups. The customers all understood that in the event of a raid they were expected to immediately throw their cups to the floor, thereby destroying the evidence of serving after hours."

The expression "after hours" means some time after normal working or operating hours. It's typically used in reference to bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and the like.

How to Use "Are"

"Are" is a "to-be" verb that is used with plural subjects. Poet Shel Silverstein, in "Every Thing on It," used the word as such in this stanza:

"There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part."

Notice how both "happy endings" and "endings" take the verb "are." Similarly, J.K. Rowling, in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," wrote:

"There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."

In this case, "are"—which is also called a linking verb—links the subject "there" with the object or predicate "some things." The term "things" is plural, so you know you would use "are" and not "is."

How to Use "Our"

"Our" indicates possession, as in something belonging to the pronoun "us." For example, President John F. Kennedy once proclaimed:

"Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource."

Kennedy repeated the term three times in this brief statement to indicate possession of progress as a nation, progress in education, and "our" fundamental resource "the human mind."

William Faulkner, in "That Evening Sun Go Down,"  used "our" to show possession in "The American Mercury" when he wrote:

"There was a light in mother's room and we heard father going down the hall, down the back stairs, and Caddy and I went into the hall. The floor was cold. Our toes curled away from the floor while we listened to the sound."

The term "our" is used here as a possessive determiner to indicate that the toes are "ours," they belong to us.

Examples

It can be helpful to view examples showing how to use each of the three terms, as the following sentences illustrate:

  • "We will only be gone for an hour." In this example, you are using "hour" in its literal sense, as a 60-minute unit of time. The sentence explains how we will be away for just 60 minutes, or one "hour."
  • "The hour is upon us." In this case, you are using "hour" in a more figurative sense, meaning that the "time"—perhaps for action or a decision—is now.
  • "We are the best team in the conference." Here, you are using "are" to link or equate two terms: "we" and "team." "We" is the group of individuals that make up the "team," so the correct use here is to say, "We are the team," meaning that "we" equal, or comprise the members of, the team.
  • "Our best efforts were not enough." In this example, "our" indicates possession; that is, the best efforts are ours, they belong to us.
  • "Our friends are out but will be back in an hour." This sentence uses all three homonyms: our, are, and hour. "Our" friends means the friends belonging to us. "Friends are out" uses "are" as a "to be" verb, meaning the friends are in a state of being out or away. And "back in an hour" literally means the friends will be back in 60 minutes.

How to Remember the Difference

The best way to remember how to use the term "hour" is to recall that it is a unit of time, whether literal or figurative. For example, "You seem to be wide awake considering the early hour of the morning." This is a figurative use: "hour," here, refers to the morning. You can be also sure you need to use the word "hour" by swapping it with the word "time," as in, "You seem to be wide awake considering the time of the morning." Similarly, if you can swap in "60 minutes," you know to use "hour." For example, "I expect you boys to return in exactly one hour." Using the swap-out trick, you could say, "I expect you boys to return in exactly 60 minutes." Since "60 minutes" is equal to one "hour," you know to use the word "hour" rather than "are" or "our."

You can also use a swap-out trick to determine when to use "our. Just substitute "our" with "the (subject/object) belonging to us." For example, you might say, "Our hopes and dreams were dashed by the realities of the war." In this case, the "hopes and dreams" are "ours," they belong to us. So, using the swap-out trick, you could say, "The hopes and dreams belonging to us were dashed by the realities of the war," indicating the correct word here is "our."

You can remember when to use "are" by keeping in mind that this word equates two or more items. For example, rock band Queen published a song titled, "We Are the Champions." This means that "we" equals the champions. You can also use the process of elimination to help. You would never say, "We hour (time, 60 minutes) the champions" or, "We our (belong to) the champions," so you know the correct word here is "are," a linking verb that equates "we" and the "champions."

Sources

  • Aaron, Jane E., and Michael Greer. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook. Pearson, 2019.
  • Carr, Howie. Hitman: the Untold Story of Johnny Martorano.
  • Hour.” Merriam-Webster.
  • Perspective.” American Edventures.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic Inc., 2020.
  • Silverstein, Shel. Every Thing on It. Penguin Books Ltd, 2012.
  • Williams, Joy. The Quick and the Dead. Vintage Contemporaries, 2002.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Are, Hour, and Our: How to Choose the Right Word." ThoughtCo, Jul. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/are-hour-and-our-1689541. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, July 6). Are, Hour, and Our: How to Choose the Right Word. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/are-hour-and-our-1689541 Nordquist, Richard. "Are, Hour, and Our: How to Choose the Right Word." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/are-hour-and-our-1689541 (accessed September 24, 2021).