How to tell the time in English

How to tell the time in English

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In English, there are two ways to ask for the time:

  1. What’s the time?
  2. What time is it?

Some useful expressions to ask for the time :

  • What time is it? / What’s the time? 
  • Have you got the right time? 
  • Could you tell me what time it is? 
  • What time are you leaving?
  • What time do you go to work?
  • What time do you want to get up? 
  • Are you on time? 


To give the “full” hours, we often add o’clock (= of the clock, to the clock).

  • It’s twelve o’clock. 
  • It’s one o’clock. 

To give the “not full” hours:

First the minutes (before or after the hour) are mentioned, then the hour is indicated. For everything between the hour and the half (i.e. after the hour), we use past; for everything after the half (i.e. before the hour), we use to:

  • It’s three o’clock => 03:00
  • It’s five past three => 03:05
  • It’s ten past three => 03:10
  • It’s a quarter past three => 03:15
  • It’s half past three => 03:30
  • It’s a quarter to four => 03:45
  • It’s ten to four => 03:50

tell the time in english

If we want to be very specific, we add the word minutes:

  • It’s two minutes to ten. => 9:58

For the schedules, it’s quite simple:

  • The bank close at 5:30 p.m. 
  • My plane leaves at 4:22 p.m. 

Some additional examples:

  • It’s eleven o’clock. => 11:00
  • It’s ten past eleven. => 11:10
  • It’s a quarter past eleven. => 11:15
  • It’s half past eleven. => 11:30
  • It’s twenty to twelve. => 11:40
  • It’s a quarter to twelve. => 11:45
  • It’s five to twelve. => 11:55
  • It’s time for lunch. 

In both the United States and Great Britain, morning hours are distinguished by adding a.m. (which means ante meridiem) of those of the afternoon by adding p.m. (post meridiem).

  • It’s 2 a.m. => It’s 2 o’clock in the morning (02:00)
  • It’s 2 p.m. => It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon (14:00)

Only the European system of a clock from 1 to 24 is used for schedules (train, plane, etc.).


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