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

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

are, hour, and our
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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" (as in "We are the champions"). The noun "hour" refers to a period of 60 minutes or a particular time of the day or night when an activity takes place (as in "You've yet to have your finest hour"). The adjective (or possessive determiner) "our" is the possessive form of "we" (as in "These are the days of our lives").

How to Use "Hour"

Merriam-Webster defines "hour" as "the 24th part of a day: 60 minutes." It is simply a unit of time. 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 other less literal uses, as Merriam-Webster also notes, such as "lunch hour," "in our hour of need," and "hero of the hour." In the second and third uses, the term takes on a more figurative meaning, indicating a time period that may or may not actually be 60 minutes. For example, to say "in our hour of need" actually means "in our 'time' of need"—and that time could be a minute, an hour, a day, or even several weeks.

Writers have used the term "hour" in a number of other idiomatic uses, where the term indicates some unit of time, but perhaps not precisely 60 minutes. 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. 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 "eleventh hour" means at the latest possible moment before it's too late, as Joy Williams wrote in "The Quick and the Dead," when stating: "Alice made another cheese sandwich. She was not abstemious and ate like a stray, like a pound pet rescued at the eleventh hour." Similarly, the expression "hour after hour" (or "hour upon hour") means a long time. George Orwell, in his classic novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four," used the term in this way when he wrote: "Their real weapon was the merciless questioning that went on and on, hour after hour...."

How to Use "Are"

"Are" is a "to-be" verb, which "The Little Brown Compact Handbook" notes you use with "plural subjects (books are)," where, by contrast, you would use "is with a singular subject (book is)." 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."

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" in this case.

How to Use "Our"

"Our" indicates possession, as in something belonging to 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 our possession of progress as a nation, progress in education, as well as "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.

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. Martha Gellhorn, in "Miami—New York," used the term in its literal sense when she wrote: "In the front seat, Kate Merlin sat alone and listened to the stewardess talking with some of the ground crew; their voices were very bright and awake for this hour of the morning." You can be sure you need to use the word "hour" by swapping it with the word time, as in "...their voices were very bright and away for this 'time' of the morning." If you can swap in the word "time," you would know not to use "are" or "our."

E.B. White, in the classic children's tale, "Charlotte's Web," used the term in an even more literal sense, when he wrote: "When Mr. Arable returned to the house half an hour later, he carried a carton under his arm." You know to use "hour" here (rather than "are" or "our") because White's character Mr. Arabie returned to the house precisely half an hour—or 30 minutes—later.

You can also remember which term to use by viewing examples that use two of these terms in a sentence, as playwright Tennessee Williams did in "The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin" in 1951: "It was a Saturday morning, I remember, of a hot yellow day and it was the hour when my sister and I would ordinarily take to the streets on our wheels." Here, swap out the terms for "time" and "belonging to us" to know which words to use: "...it was the 'time' when my sister and I would ordinarily take to the streets wheels 'that belonged to us." You know that you are subbing "time" for "hour" here and "that belonged to us" for "our."

You can do the same for "our" versus "are," as Maya Angelou did in "Letter to My Daughter," when she wrote: "Our hope for the future has waned to such a degree that we risk sneers and snorts of derision when we confess that we are hoping for brighter tomorrows." Here, Angelou used "our" when describing hope, as in hope that belongs to us, and "are" as a linking verb to connect "we" with the term "hoping."

Another way to remember is to view a sentence that uses both "are" and "is," as former President Dwight D. Eisenhower did when he stated: "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." Eisenhower, who was also the allied military commander who planned the successful D-Day invasion during World War II, certainly knew a thing or two about planning. You could modify the famous phrase to create a mnemonic (memory device): " 'Our' plans 'are' nothing at the vital 'hour.' " Eisenhower was certainly referring to "our plans" (plans that belong to us) that "are nothing" ("are" linking the terms "plans" and "nothing") "at the vital hour" (at the vital time of need). Indeed, it was a vital "hour of need" (a time of need) that determined the fate of the world as it referred to planning that helped defeat the Nazis.

Sources

  • Aaron, Jane E., and Michael Greer. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook. Pearson, 2019.
  • Angelou, Maya. Letter to My Daughter. Virago, 2014.
  • Carr, Howie. Hitman: the Untold Story of Johnny Martorano.
  • Gellhorn, Martha. "Miami--New York." The Atlantic Monthly, 1948.
  • Hour.” Merriam-Webster.
  • Perspective.” American Edventures.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers 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, Jun. 13, 2021, thoughtco.com/are-hour-and-our-1689541. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, June 13). 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 June 23, 2021).