Imagine that you look up at the sky, the pink and golds of the sunset fading away while deep blues emerge from the edges of the horizon. The day ends, and a hush seems to fall over the world — is it “nighttime”, or should it be “night time”?
“Nighttime” and “night-time,” the latter a British variant spelled with a hyphen, are the only correct compound word forms. “Nighttime” refers to the time of the day when the sun disappears, and darkness falls, lasting until sunrise the following day. It has many synonyms, but we never write “nighttime” as two separate words.
“Nighttime” may look slightly awkward with its double consonant usage in the middle, but it is the correct form of the word. Keep reading to understand proper usage and the reason for its unique structure.
Nighttime or Night-Time
Both of the above words are correct, regardless of usage, in British English (source). Oxford’s Lexico lists “night-time,” and the Cambridge Dictionary lists “nighttime.” However, the American English Merriam-Webster Dictionary does not recognize “night-time.”
Since the only way you can know for sure whether you should write a compound word as open, closed, or hyphenated in English is to consult an authoritative dictionary, you will want to rely on Merriam-Webster for American English and Oxford or Cambridge for British English spelling.
In the general trajectory of language change, words move from two words to hyphenated forms to a one-word compound word. Merriam-Webster and the Cambridge Dictionary have already adopted the closed compound, while it seems that Lexico, based largely on the Oxford English Dictionary, still lists the hyphenated form.
If you would like to learn more about hyphenated words, read “High Quality or High-Quality: Understanding When to Use a Hyphen.” However, anyone should be able to understand the simple explanations in the article.
Is Nighttime One Word or Two?
“Nighttime” is one word. It originates from the Middle English (ME) combination of “night” and “time” (source). Linguistic history tells us that the word may have derived from a two-word phrase, but even during the ME period, it also had a one-word form.
“Nighttime” is a compound word made of two nouns. Throughout English language development, certain phrases began as two words and then often morphed into hyphenated forms.
Eventually, the hyphen would disappear as well, and you are then left with a more straightforward one-word form (source). This is what has happened to “nighttime,” and the one-word form is now the most accurate American English spelling. There is a little more leeway in British English spelling, however.
“Nighttime” is not the only word that confuses writers. Have a look at “In Spite or Inspite: Which is Correct?” to help you understand other nuances of one-word or two-word phrases.
What Does Nighttime mean?
“Nighttime” refers to the period of darkness on any given day. It is different from the word “night” because it’s limited to that specific period of time between sunrise and sunset (source).
There is some overlap between these two words, and you can use them interchangeably at times. “Night” and “nighttime” are both nouns, but the meaning of “night” has more nuance.
While “night” also refers to the period of time that it is dark within 24 hours, it can also relate to the quality of being dark or to a condition resembling the darkness of night (source).
In a figurative manner, it can refer to the absence of moral values or a dark and dreary period in one’s life.
“Night” is a count noun (source). This is because it has a numerical value if needed — you can have one night and multiple nights. In some cases, “night” can also be a variable noun. This unique type of noun is when the word has the features of both count and noncount nouns.
In contrast, “nighttime” is a noncount noun. Again, this is because you cannot have numerous nighttimes, making it awkward to write the word with an indefinite article.
- It’s a lovely night.
- It’s lovely at nighttime.
The exception to using an indefinite pronoun is when “nighttime” is an adjectival noun. However, even in that case, the meaning of “nighttime” does not change, and the word describes the time at night that something is taking place.
Why Is It Called Nighttime?
“Nighttime” is a precise term, despite its broad definition referring to time in darkness once the sun has set. There are many words that you can use to describe different times of the day: “sunrise,” “morning,” “noon,” “afternoon,” “sunset,” and the list continues.
There is also a less common lexis like “high noon,” “arvo” (an informal Australian term for the afternoon), and “crepuscular,” which is a broad and specialized term referring to the moment directly after sunrise but just before sunset when the sun is at its weakest.
In English, as with any language, we like to be specific when stating times. However, sometimes it is not appropriate to state hours and minutes, and, hence, words like “nighttime” are a valuable part of our vocabulary.
Using Nighttime in a Sentence
“Nighttime” is a common word, and you’ll often use it to be more specific than simply using the word “night.” However, in its noun form, “nighttime” and “night” are usually interchangeable.
Nighttime as a Noun
We use the noun “nighttime” when referring to the time of darkness.
- It might be nighttime, but there was not a star in the sky.
- Nighttime is the most peaceful time of the day when everyone falls asleep.
- I wish I could get inside the theme park at nighttime.
Nighttime as an Adjectival Noun
In other cases, “nighttime” can also function as an adjective, a word that describes a noun. However, in these cases, we do not call it an adjective but, rather, an adjectival noun, attributive noun, or a noun modifier.
Even though “nighttime” is a noun that can stand on its own, it functions as an adjective when it comes ahead of another noun (source).
- We packed up the snacks and torches, excited for our nighttime outing.
- My doctor said these nighttime symptoms were typical and nothing to worry about.
- Owls have incredible nighttime vision.
In all of the above sentences, “nighttime” describes when other events or situations are taking place.
When you use the word as an adjectival noun, “nighttime” is not interchangeable with “night.” “Night” does not ever function as an adjectival noun, but it does function as an adjective, so when you are indicating that something is taking place at night, then “nighttime” is the correct way to describe it.
Rules for Using Nighttime as an Adjectival Noun
Adjectival nouns always come before the main noun. You can use standard adjectives before or after the noun, but noun modifiers can only appear directly before the noun.
You will generally use adjectival nouns in their singular form, which is especially true for “nighttime.” However, when “nighttime” refers to multiple situations or scenarios, the main noun that appears after it will become the plural form.
- There are fireworks in every county. The nighttime displays are stunning!
- I keep getting nighttime cramps!
- Nighttime accidents happen to a lot of young children; it’s not a big deal.
Knowing When to Use Night Versus Nighttime
Although the words have overlapping meanings, there are simple tricks to differentiate between “night” and when you should use “nighttime” instead.
When both words are nouns, it’s essential to understand the context that they are referring to. For example, “nighttime” refers to more specific hours of darkness once the sun goes down. Remember that, in contrast, “night” is generally a countable noun that refers to the time between sunset and sunrise.
Therefore, if you are specifying the night as a moment in time, you would use “nighttime.” But if you refer to the time in general, then “night” works.
- The night was really dark. (a generalized reference to night)
- Nighttime is always dark. (refers to the specific moment in time when it is dark)
- She goes to night school. (this is a school that takes place at night)
- She goes to school during the nighttime. (refers to the time when the school is in session)
“Nighttime” is an adjectival noun, and we can use “night” as an adjective, but “nighttime” refers to the moment when something took place. In contrast, “night” as an adjective refers to an object that you would generally use at night. You’ll also note that in these instances, the word “night” is often part of a longer compound word.
- These nighttime drives are always fun! (These drives only take place at night.)
- The night-light was so cute! (This is a light used at night.)
- My nighttime insomnia makes waking up difficult. (This insomnia only takes place at night.)
- In the winter, I wear my fuzziest and most comfortable nightshirt. (A shirt you wear at night.)
“Nighttime” only has two functions — as a noun and as an adjectival noun. Somewhat similarly, “night” is a noun and an adjective, but it also has other functions. For example, “night” can also be an interjection and a verb — usually in conjunction with another word.
As an interjection, “night” is a shortened version of wishing someone “good night.” As a verb, “night” is uncommon, but you’ll hear it on occasion.
- I’m going to overnight my drive.
- I overnighted the package to get it there in time.
You will not ever use “nighttime” as an interjection or verb. Therefore, any sentence you write requiring the verb or interjection form will need the word “night” alone.
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There are quite a few synonyms for “night” and “nighttime,” which leave us with many choices when writing a piece set in the darkness of the evening (source).
These words all have similar meanings but may be slightly nuanced in some cases. For example, some words are nouns, and some can also function as adjectives.
The most common synonyms would be “dark” or “darkness.” Both words can function as nouns or adjectives and function perfectly as synonyms, especially when paired with the word “time.”
- I rushed out, cursing the moonless nighttime.
- I rushed out, cursing the darkness.
Another applicable synonym is “midnight.” This word also refers to “nighttime,” but it is even more specific as it relates to 12 AM or close to that time. Another more specific synonym is “nightfall.” This term is similar to “twilight,” as it refers to the changing light at the end of the day.
“Tonight” and “evening” are common synonyms, too, but “tonight” is unique as it refers to the day’s specific night, and you cannot use it to refer to any night in the future.
“Blackness,” “gloom,” and “shades of night” along with “hours of darkness” can also be appropriate synonyms. However, these words have negative connotations and would be more suited for something depressing or horrifying that is happening at night.
“Nocturnal” is an interesting adjective for “night.” The word describes people or animals who are most active during the nighttime.
Words like “evening,” “dark,” and “night” can also function as adjectives and often describe the time of night that something takes place.
- The evening breezes were lovely
- The night was dark, without a single star in the sky or a single bird in the trees.
- I walked to the window, feeling the cool breezes brush against my nightgown.
“Nightly” is another adjective that you can use as a synonym for “nighttime.”
- Washing, toning, and moisturizing are my nighttime rituals.
- Washing, toning, and moisturizing are my nightly rituals.
Nightly is a word that does contain a level of nuance that indicates that the situation described happens every night. This is in contrast to “nighttime,” which suggests that something happens just at night. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Due to the common usage of the word “nighttime,” there are many synonyms that you can apply in any piece of writing. This allows you to be more specific in your ideas and use a range of lexis that does not become repetitive.
“Nighttime” or “night-time” are fascinating words in their simplicity. Although they refer to something everyone the world over understands, their usage is unique since they each refer to a specific moment of time.
Remember that “night-time” is always written as one word or a hyphenated compound word, which is an easy trick to remember when writing your own pieces. So whether you are referring to “midnight,” “evening,” or “the darkness,” nighttime is a simple and effective word with minimal connotation.