The Meaning of Time is of the Essence: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered what the phrase time is of the essence means? This article will provide all of the information you need on the commonly used idiom time is of the essence, including its definition, etymology, synonyms, sentence examples, and more!

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What does the phrase time is of the essence mean?

According to Dictionary, the phrase time is of the essence is said when there is something that must be done immediately. There is no time to waste, and whatever is being spoken about needs to be done fast. The Free Dictionary Legal Dictionary states that the phrase time is of the essence is also a phrase used in contracts, called a time is of the essence clause. This clause states that performance by a certain party within the specified period of time is required to enable said party to require performance by the other party.

If the party fails to complete these actions within the specified time frame, this denotes a breach of contract. If this clause is included, this means that any delay, reasonable or not, is grounds to cancel the agreement. A time is of the essence provision states that failure to provide a complete performance within a reasonable time is considered a material breach of the contract. A piece of legal advice – make sure the contract gives you a reasonable amount of time so you do not end up the breaching party!

The phrase time is of the essence could refer to some soon-approaching contractual deadline. In contract terms, if there is a missed deadline, this could render things like real estate transactions void due to one party’s failure. If said real estate contracts are not completed within the given period of time, usually by the closing date, the sale of a house or other building may not go through. For different legal contractual obligations, like construction contracts or other agreements, time must be of the essence to complete the promised services or actions on time. 

What is the origin of the phrase time is of the essence?

According to Construction Science, the origin of the phrase time is of the essence comes from the building of the transcontinental railroad. While the project was considered impossible at the time of its construction, many people were sure it could be done. During the construction of the transcontinental railroad, the only goal was to get the railroad completed as fast as possible. According to historian Stephen Ambrose’s book Nothing Like It In The World, the amount fo black powder that the builders were using a day was far from economical. However, during the construction of the railroad, the workers were told that “time, not money, was of the essence.”

According to Phrases, the phrase time is of the essence is a very old expression and was often used in legal documents The exact origin of this phrase is unknown. 

How can the phrase time is of the essence be used in a sentence?

The phrase time is of the essence can be used in many different contexts to create a sense of urgency. In this example, Tony and Lisa work at a local sandwich shop. A local business just called in a large order.

Tony: Oh my God. The bank down the street just called in an order for a hundred sandwiches. All customized differently. To be ready in an hour! How are we going to finish this in time?

Lisa: Well, we won’t finish it by wondering how we’re going to finish it. Time is of the essence – start toasting some bread!

Tony: You got it!

Here, Lisa uses the phrase time is of the essence to allude to the fact that they do not have a lot of time and have to get working to complete the order. In this next example, Tony and Lisa discuss Lisa’s relationship with her girlfriend.

Tony: How long have you guys been together again?

Lisa: Six years. Almost seven! We’ve lived together for four.

Tony: Wow, do you think you are going to propose to her?

Lisa: I’ve been thinking about it. I really want to, especially if we want to have kids.

Tony: Time is of the essence! Get on it!

What are synonyms for the phrase time is of the essence?

There are many different ways that someone can tell someone else that they need to do something quickly. These are all known as synonyms. Synonyms are words or phrases that have the same definition as a given word or phrase. Someone might choose to use a synonym to avoid repeating themselves or to expand their vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the phrase time is of the essence is from Thesaurus.

  • bullet
  • step on it
  • race
  • bestir
  • rush
  • go like lightning
  • accelerate
  • flit
  • scurry
  • haste
  • step on gas
  • speed
  • whish
  • burst
  • fleet
  • spur
  • jog
  • make time
  • zip
  • shake a leg
  • quicken
  • get a move on
  • rocket
  • be quick
  • goad
  • hustle
  • push
  • nip
  • beeline
  • lose no time
  • bustle
  • smoke
  • make short work of
  • breeze
  • speed up
  • whisk
  • sally
  • expedite
  • dig in
  • whirl
  • urge
  • dash
  • hasten
  • roll
  • hurry up
  • run
  • fly
  • rip
  • turn on steam
  • make haste
  • whiz
  • drive
  • barrel
  • make tracks
  • scoot

Overall, the phrase time is of the essence means that something needs to be done immediately or very quickly. It is used to state some urgency or requirement for something to be done speedily. If someone tells you that time is of the essence, this means that the matter they are discussing is very urgent.