Why It's Daylight Saving Time, Not Daylight Savings Time

Admit it: You have to say “Spring forward, fall back” to yourself every spring and autumn in order to set your clocks right. Adding an hour when you should subtract an hour could be your first mistake of daylight savings time — and calling it “daylight savings time” instead of “daylight saving time” could be your second.

Person holding jar against sunny sky Person holding jar against sunny sky

Save Editing Time With Daylight Saving Time

It’s “daylight saving time” because you’re saving daylight. Not much more complicated than that. Beginning shortly after World War I in the United States, daylight saving time describes the period between spring and fall when you extend daylight hours during the summer months.

It’s Confusing Because of Grammar (Surprise, Surprise)

So why the confusion over saving vs. savings? The term should technically be “daylight-saving time” because daylight modifies saving, although the hyphen is lost to time and everyday usage. Think of similar terms, such as “life-saving CPR” or “money-saving coupon.” Now remove the hyphen and add an “s.” “Life savings CPR” and “money savings coupon” don’t sound right — because they’re not.

All of these terms are compound adjectives in which the first adjective modifies the second adjective, and the pair together modify the noun. Removing hyphens from compound adjectives can be confusing, which results in situations like:

  • three kid families (Is it three families of kids, or families with three kids?)

  • purple skinned aliens (Is the skin purple, or are the purple aliens skinned?)

  • man eating bear (Does the bear eat the man or does the man eat the bear?)

  • second best runner (Are they the almost-best runner, or the second of two best runners?)

  • cat owning teachers (Do the teachers collect cats or do the cats own the teachers?)

When you don’t hyphenate “daylight saving time,” it doesn’t read naturally as a compound adjective. That’s one reason why people don’t spell (or say) it correctly.

Why Do People Even Say Daylight Savings Time?

So how did the unhyphenated “daylight saving time” become “daylight savings time?” It’s possible that people are used to saying financial terms, such as “savings account” or “savings and loan,” in which savings is a plural noun. It could also just be that phonetically, savings blends better with time and is nicer to say.

If “daylight savings time” sounds better to you, you’re not alone: Adding that “s” is much more popular than the real term. Feel free to say it in conversation and casual emails, but if you’re using the term professionally, it’s best to go with “daylight saving time” (no hyphen).

Other Phrases That You’re Spelling Wrong

Now that you know how to say “daylight saving time,” you just have to figure out how to set those clocks right (can’t help you there, we have to look it up every time too). For more ways to stop embarrassing yourself in your writing, check out: