“At That Time” vs. “At The Time” – Difference & Preposition Guide

The difference between “at that time” and “at the time” is subtle, and some people might use them interchangeably. This article will explore the differences nonetheless and will talk about some other preposition rules for the phrase.

What Is The Difference Between “At That Time” And “At The Time”?

You should use “at that time” when you want to specify an exact time that somebody has asked you about or when you want to sound more official (it’s common in press meetings). You should use “at the time” in all other situations when you’re talking about an event.

What Is The Difference Between "At That Time" And "At The Time"?

Generally, “at that time” is more sudden or more specific. We use it when we want to emphasize the exact time when an event might have occurred, and it’s especially impactful if someone has already asked us about one or two times, and we specify which one applies.

“At the time” is the more common choice used by most, if not all, native speakers. It simply means that there’s a time when an event happened, and there isn’t anything that can be done to influence that event anymore because it happened in the past.

Is “At That Time” Or “At The Time” Used The Most?

Since the two phrases are somewhat synonymous, it might help you to know more about which is more popular. With this information, you can focus your attention more on the phrase that is most common because more native speakers will be likely to use it.

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “at the time” is more popular and has been throughout the last two centuries. “At that time” does get used, but it isn’t nearly as widespread, and it seems to be fallen out of favor in recent years.

Is "At That Time" Or "At The Time" Used The Most?

While the decline of “at that time” in recent years isn’t harsh, it’s clear that many people have stopped using it. The graph shows all recorded usage of the two phrases in literature, which is what helps us to understand that “at the time” is the better phrase to use.

Examples Of How To Use “At That Time” In A Sentence

Now we’ll cover some examples to help you understand them better. We’ll start with “at that time,” which is slightly less common, but there are still situations where we might use it over “at the time.”

  1. I’m sorry, but I didn’t have anything else to say at that time. I do, however, have things I need to say now.
  2. At that time, I wasn’t aware of any wrongdoings.
  3. At that time, there was nothing I could have done, but that all changes today.
  4. At that time, we weren’t sure whether he was going to make it, but he’s alive and well now!
  5. I’m sorry, but at that time, I wasn’t myself. You can ask me that question again, and I’ll give you an honest answer.
  6. At that time, there were a few things I had on my mind; you can ask me anything else, though.
  7. He mentioned that something terrible happened at that time and that he would be happy to discuss it at another point.

“At that time” works best when you’re trying to sound official or when you’re saying that something happened at a specific time in the past but is now different because time has changed it.

Examples Of How To Use “At The Time” In A Sentence

“At the time” is much more common. The chances are that you’ll be able to use “at the time” in place of all of the above examples, and all native speakers will still understand what you’re saying.

  1. At the time, I wasn’t aware of what I was saying, and I’m sorry for that.
  2. We couldn’t find anything else wrong with him at the time, I’m afraid.
  3. At the time, you would have noticed that things weren’t going according to plan.
  4. There wasn’t much left to do for him at the time, and I regret that every day.
  5. I made sure he was okay at the time, and then I went home to sleep.
  6. At the time, he was a surprisingly kind and loving person.
  7. Of course, at the time, the relationship was top-notch, and I didn’t think anything could go wrong.

“At the time” is the most popular phrase, and we use it to refer to general events and happenings in the past. Usually, there’s nothing we can do to impact or change the outcome of that event.

Which Other Prepositions Can Be Used With That/The Time?

There are two other prepositions that we might be able to use with the phrases “that time” and “the time.” Both of them are slightly different in meaning, and we’ll include how to use them both.

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “by” and “in” are the other two prepositions you can use. “By” is much more popular than “in,” and “by the time” appears to be as popular as “at that time.”

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“By the time” is the more popular phrase compared to “by that time.”

“By the time” means that something has happened or changed up until a certain point, and that point had an effect on the overall thing. “By that time” works in the same way, but “that” implies a more specific time frame for the event.

  • By the time that happened, it was too late to do anything.
  • By that time, I had already left, and I felt really bad!


“In the time” is more popular than “in that time,” but neither is particularly common.

“In the time” means that something took place within a certain time frame, and we usually generalize the two ends of the time frame. “In that time” works in the same way, but, again, “that” makes the event more specific.

  • In the time it took you to complete that task, I’d already done three of my own.
  • Well done, you finished your homework. Of course, in that time, I did all my chores, my own homework, and read a book.

Is It Ever Correct To Use “That Time” On Its Own?

You can use “that time” on its own without any prepositions when you want to talk about a very specific occasion or thing that occurred.

  • Okay, that time I wasn’t paying attention!
  • That time you got me! I won’t let it happen again!