What is the big hand on the clock called? — Analog Clock Parts

A close up image of a clock, featuring its hands. (from: Pexels/Hussam Bin Nasser https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-a-clock-9179651/ )

Your complete analog clock dictionary.

As early as elementary school, you probably heard your teachers refer to the “small hand” or “big hand” of a clock. Chances are you’ve continued using the terms way beyond that, too, but they’ve long since started to feel like childish words.

Or, maybe you know the basic parts of a clock but are still wondering what the dashes on a clock are called.

In either case, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s your complete analog clock dictionary:

The Big Hand on the Clock and Other Front-Facing Parts

First, we want to take a look at the front part of the clock. This is the part we interact with the most often and, admittedly, stare at sometimes while in class or at work. Knowing the right names for the front-facing parts of a clock is essential in talking about time.

Clock Face (or Dial)

Here is a clock face, which is sometimes called a 'dial', on the floor. (from: Pexels, Pixabay, https://www.pexels.com/photo/analog-analogue-broken-clock-219677/ )

The wide open part of the clock that does not move is known as the clock face. Sometimes, and especially in watches, this can also be called the dial. Typical features on the clock face include the numerals, graduations, and information about the make and manufacturer of the clock.

Hour Hand

The small hand on a clock is known as the hour hand.

The hour hand of the clock points to the current hour or just past it. It is important to remember that the hour does not change until the hour hand reaches the next number fully. On clocks with big numerals, this can be confusing for beginner clock readers. For example, when it is 4:50 the hour hand might appear to be pointing at the ‘5’.

Minute Hand

The big hand on a clock is known as the minute hand.

The minute hand tells you the current minute you are at in the hour. While you can read the minute exactly where it lands, you will need to do a little bit of math to guess what time it really is. Just multiply the numeral the minute hand is near by five to get a good guess at the minute. For example, if the minute hand is pointing just past the ‘7’, you can guess that the time is just over X:35. When the minute hand points to the ‘12’ it signifies X:00 instead.

Second Hand

If there is a third hand on your clock it is likely the second hand. The second hand will usually be the longest hand on your clock if it has one. It will typically also have a thin pointer and may even be a different color from the other hands on your clock.

The second hand on a clock will either ‘tick’ along with each second or move in a continuous motion. When the second hand moves in this continuous way it can also be called the sweep hand.

The second hand is read in a very similar way to the minute hand. Just as there are 60 minutes in an hour, there are 60 seconds in a minute. Since the second hand moves quickly, it can be difficult to read. If you need to use your clock’s second hand extensively, be sure it reaches out to the graduation lines (see below) in a readable manner.

When dealing with the business of clocks and watches, it might be useful to refer to the second hand as the seconds hand even though it is slightly less correct. This is because secondhand can be used for things you buy from a store like Goodwill.


The numbers on a clock are known as its numerals. The number of numerals on a clock differs with its style.

Another point of style is what kind of numerals are used. Most clocks use the 1, 2, 3 we’re used to in our writing, but others use Roman Numerals (I, II, III) as markers. There are many other styles of numerals on clocks, including:

  • Silly clocks that are in a deliberately wrong order (3, 10, 2…)
  • Modern that spell out their numerals (ONE, TWO, THREE)
  • Foreign clocks that use local languages and symbols for the numerals (一,二,三)

Clocks do not have to have numerals to be readable, as we can rely on…

Graduation Lines

The lines on the edge of a clock are called graduations. 


An overlooked part of the clock face, the fasteners keep the hands of the clock from falling off and are found at the center of the clock face. Typically, they are a combination of different types of bolts, nuts, and washers, often with the outermost piece being selected for aesthetic purposes rather than practical.

The Movement — A Look Behind the Face

The power source behind the clock is known as the movement. There are many styles of clock movements, but some of the most important include the following:

  • Pendulum — A pendulum, or oscillator, movement is the kind that swings back and forth. You can famously see a grandfather clock’s pendulum swinging below its face.
  • Quartz — Quartz is known to be able to vibrate in a predictable way when an electric charge, such as from a battery, is pulsed through it.

The Case

Much like a turtle has its shell, a clock has its case. This is the protective layering that goes around a clock. These can go from very elaborate, such as in an anniversary clock, to nonexistent, such as in a stick-on wall clock.


The many different types of analog clocks make for a difficult time in examining every part of a modern clock. However, many elements of a clock (such as the big hand on a clock) are nearly universal and should be known by all. Use the proper terms to avoid looking childish and show that you have a responsible, reliable look at how time and punctuality work.

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