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Telling Time in French

Now that you’ve learned about French numbers, learning to tell time will be a breeze.  Some differences between English and French should be noted, however:

#  French requires that, when stating the time, you not only state the hour but also say the actual word hour (e.g. sept heures / seven).

#  Whereas English operates on a 12-hour clock, with A.M. denoting morning hours and P.M. afternoon hours, French usually operates on a 24-hour clock.  Instead of resetting the clock at noon and midnight, the number for hours continues to increase after noon (e.g. 1 P.M. is treize heures/13 hours,  2 P.M. is quatorze heures/14 hours and so on) until midnight when the clock is reset to zero.  This should be familiar to people who’ve served in the military.

#  One way to get  around the above is to state explicitly what time of day one is   referring to.  If the hour is from midnight to noon, as in the English A.M., you can qualify the time with du matin/of the morning (e.g. cinq heures du matin/five of the morning); from noon to 6 P.M., you can qualify the time with de l’après-midi/of the afternoon (e.g. cinq heures de l’après-midi/five of the afternoon); finally, from 6 P.M. to midnight it should be du soir/of the evening (e.g. neuf heures du soir/nine of the evening).

Beyond these minor differences, telling time in French and English are pretty much the same.  Throughout the 60 minutes of an hour, you can just use the number for the hour + heure(s) followed by the number for the minutes (e.g. 8:13 A.M./huit heures treize/eight thirteen;  4:39 P.M./seize (16) heures trente-neuf/four thirty-nine) just as in English.

When it comes to specific fractions of the hour, you do have 2 options though.  For 8:15 for example, you can say huit heures quinze/eight fifteen or huit heures et quart/eight and a quarter.  For 10:30 for example, you can say dix heures trente/ten thirty or dix heures et demie/ten and a half.

Past the half-hour mark, with every five-minute increment you can use:

– the straightforward hour + heure(s) followed by the number for the minutes (e.g. 5:35 A.M./cinq heures trente-cinq/five thirty-five)

–  or  a construction equivalent to the English “so many minutes to the hour.”  In French, this translates into:  the number for the next hour + heure(s) + moins followed by the number for the minutes remaining in the hour (e.g. 5:35 A.M./six heures moins vingt-cinq/six minus twenty-five).  This construction only applies for minutes that are multiples of five (e.g. 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55).

As with HH:15, you can use quarter instead of forty-five for HH:45.  In this case, you have to use the “so many minutes to the hour” construction (e.g. 8:45 A.M./neuf heures moins le quart/nine minus the quarter).

Building from the “Questions with More Complex Answers” lesson:

#  You can ask for the current time (e.g. What time is it?) in the following ways:   Quelle heure est-il? (always correct);  Quelle heure il est? (informal);  Il est quelle heure? (informal).  The answer should start with: Il est…/It is

#  You can ask for a time in the future (e.g. What time will it be?) in the following ways:  Quelle heure sera-t-il? (always correct);  Quelle heure il sera? (informal);  Il sera quelle heure? (informal).  The answer should start with: Il sera…/It will be

#  You can ask for a time in the past (e.g. What time was it?) in the following ways:  Quelle heure était-il? (always correct);  Quelle heure il était? (informal); Il était quelle heure? (informal).  The answer should start with: Il était…/It will be

Telling Time

Time French English
0:00 A.M. Il est minuit It’s midnight
1:00 A.M. Il est une heure (du matin) It’s one o’clock
2:00 A.M. Il est deux heures (du matin) It’s two o’clock
3:00 A.M. Il est trois heures (du matin) It’s three o’clock
12:00 P.M. Il est midi It’s noon
13:00 (1:00 P.M.) Il est treize heures

Il est une heure de l’après-midi

It’s one o’clock
14:00 (2:00 P.M.) Il est quatorze heures

Il est deux heures de l’après-midi

It’s two o’clock
15:00 (3:00 P.M.) Il est quinze heures

Il est trois heures de l’après-midi

It’s three o’clock
18:00 (6:00 P.M.) Il est dix-huit heures

Il est six heures du soir

It’s six o’clock
19:00 (7:00 P.M.) Il est dix-neuf heures

Il est sept heures du soir

It’s seven o’clock
5:15 A.M. Il est cinq heures quinze

Il est cinq heures et quart

It’s five fifteen
5:30 A.M. Il est cinq heures trente

Il est cinq heures et demie

It’s five thirty
5:45 A.M. Il est cinq heures quarante-cinq

Il est six heures moins le quart

It’s five forty-five

It’s a quarter to six

To talk about time in more general terms, use the following:

French Words about Time

Jour Day
Matin Morning
Après-midi Afternoon
Soir Evening
Nuit Night
De bonne heure / Tôt Early
Tard Late