Whether you’re planning an activity, making restaurant bookings or appointments, or catching trains, planes and buses, knowing how to tell the time in English is a pretty valuable skill to have.
There are countless ways to address the concept of time in the English language. And there’s no time like the present to learn how to tell the time.
Perfect for both adults learning English and children mastering time telling, this article will explore the importance of time, break down how actually to talk about and say the time and even touch on some mind-bending philosophy and science.
Keep reading to dive into everything you need to know about telling the time!
Why time is important
Time’s importance underpins humanity's very existence. It’s one of the mysteries of the universe and is debatably, one of humanity’s most invaluable and powerful resources. That’s because once time has passed, you can’t get it back.
Time is also a universal truth - and a concept ingrained in every language and culture. Much of humanity relies upon structuring our daily life around dates, days of the week, minutes, hours, months, and years.
There’s so much that is dependent upon time. And by reading this article, you’re doing a remarkable thing by crystallizing your time knowledge and skills.
How to tell the time in English
Telling the time in English can seem challenging at first because there are so many options to consider – but that’s also part of the fun. You can always start with the basics by addressing the English number for the hour, which ranges from 1 to 12 in traditional time and 1 to 24 in military time.
In this section, we'll explore asking for the time, and break down step by step how to tell the time, so you can get the confidence to communicate about time, no matter what minute or hour of the day it is.
How to ask what the time is in English
Time, which is pronounced tīm, is very simple to ask for. You can simply say:
- What time is it?
- What's the time?
Some also say do you have the time?
How to tell the time of the hour
To tell the time of the hour, say the hour by number and add o’clock to the end of it. Let’s explore how to tell time on the hour, using the examples below ranging from 1-12.
|Time||Written in English|
|1:00||It's one o'clock|
|2:00||It's two o'clock|
|3:00||It's three o'clock|
|4:00||It's four o'clock|
|5:00||It's five o'clock|
|6:00||It's six o'clock|
|7:00||It's seven o'clock|
|8:00||It's eight o'clock|
|9:00||It's nine o'clock|
|10:00||It's ten o'clock|
|11:00||It's eleven o'clock|
|12:00||It's twelve o'clock|
How to say half past, quarter past, and quarter to
A big part of telling time is understanding notable milestones in the hour. These are the three most common milestones and how to say them in English.
|Time/Number||Written in English|
|1:15||It’s one-fifteen / It’s a quarter past|
|7:30||It’s seven-thirty / It’s half past seven|
|10:45||It’s ten forty-five / It’s a quarter to eleven|
How to say what time of day it is in English
In English, there are several common ways to reference the time of day depending on what portion of the day you are in. You’ll find that this can be more casual than saying the actual time itself.
|English||Time Range||Written in English|
|Morning||Sunrise until 12:00 p.m.||It’s ten o’clock in the morning|
|Afternoon||12:00 until 6:00 p.m.||Our meeting is at three o’clock in the afternoon|
|Evening||6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.||Dinner this evening will be served at six|
|Night||9:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. or sunrise||It’s ten o’clock at night|
|Midday/Noon||12:00 p.m.||Let’s grab lunch at noon|
|Midnight||12:00 a.m.||The sales start at midnight|
How to tell exact minutes in English
When saying the full time, including minutes, you’ll generally want to pair every individual component together. Start with the number of the hour, then add the number for the minutes. If the minutes are under ten, like 1:07, you will say the zero as a part of the minute number.
|Time||Written in English||Variations|
|1:18||It’s one eighteen.||It’s eighteen past one.|
|2:23||It’s two twenty-three.||It’s twenty-three past two.|
|3:47||It’s three forty-seven.||It’s thirteen to four.|
|4:59||It’s four fifty-nine.||It’s one minute to five.|
|5:01||It’s five oh-one.||It’s one past five.|
Note that there are some variations to telling the time in exact minutes, which we’ve provided in the variation column.
Remember, if you’re using the variations, once you go past half past the hour, you move from saying past, instead to to.
How to tell military time
Learning how to tell military time in English can be even easier for some new learners.
This format is used by the military and is considered to be the International Standard for time-telling.
|Time||Written in English|
|0100||Zero one hundred hours|
|0200||Zero two hundred hours|
|0315||Zero three fifteen hours|
|0300||Zero three hundred hours|
|0500||Zero five hundred hours|
|0600||Zero six hundred hours|
|0700||Zero seven hundred hours|
|0800||Zero eight hundred hours|
|0900||Zero nine hundred hours|
|1000||Ten hundred hours|
|1100||Eleven hundred hours|
|1200||Twelve hundred hours|
|1300||Thirteen hundred hours|
|1400||Fourteen hundred hours|
|1500||Fifteen hundred hours|
|1607||Sixteen zero seven hours|
|1700||Seventeen hundred hours|
|1800||Eighteen hundred hours|
|1900||Nineteen hundred hours|
|2000||Twenty hundred hours|
|2100||Twenty-one hundred hours|
|2200||Twenty-two hundred hours|
|2300||Twenty-three hundred hours|
|0000/2400||Zero hundred hours / Twenty-four hundred hours|
Other time-related phrases in English
To get the most out of telling the time, it can be helpful to practice in new ways. There are even some games you can use to amp up the fun factor!
|English||In a sentence|
|Day||Friday is my favorite day|
|Week||It has been a long week|
|Month||My birthday is this month|
|Year||This has been a great year|
|Yesterday||I talked to them yesterday|
|Today||Today is not a good day for me|
|Tomorrow||Tomorrow my schedule is completely open|
|Last year||I changed jobs last year|
|This year||This year is going to be great|
|Next year||I have some big goals to achieve next year|
|Next time||Next time we see each other, let’s go running|
|Last month||Last month, I got a raise at work|
|This month||I want to go to the gym more this month|
|Take your time||Take your time with that project|
|Once upon a time||Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess...|
|A long time||Getting your oil changed takes a long time|
|Sometime||Let’s go to Arizona sometime|
|Occasionally||Occasionally, I enjoy a glass of wine|
|Have a great time||Have a great time at the movies!|
|Until next time||It was nice to meet you. Until next time!|
|Over time||Over time, I found myself wondering if they liked me.|
Time in English FAQs
Let’s explore some fun details surrounding time and telling time.
Does time exist?
Time is definitely a real concept for most humans. In physics, Einstein’s relativity theory states that time and space are two sides of the same coin, and we exist within them both.
Physicists are divided on this subject and still exploring the answers to this question. Could time just be some sort of illusion generated by the limitations of the way we perceive the universe?
We think this Ted-Ed talk by Andrew Zimmerman-Jones explores this mind-bending science really well. Press play!
What do A.M. and P.M stand for?
When telling time, a.m. and p.m. are abbreviations. The abbreviation a.m. stands for ante meridiem, which means “before midday.” The abbreviation p.m. stands for post meridiem, which means “after midday.”
When and how were clocks invented?
The first clocks ever invented were obelisks and sundials, ancient devices that were first introduced back between 3500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.
These devices measured the passing of time using the sun, which would move a shadow along the devices.
Songs about time and clocks
There are plenty of exciting songs that refer to time and clocks. Let’s explore a few of our favorites.
Rock around the clock by Bill Haley and his Comets
This fun song was very popular when it was introduced and still appears in the film to this day. Some believe that it really kicked off the American interest in Rock & Roll.
Time won’t let me go by The Bravery
This hit song was released in 2007 and explores some of the more philosophical considerations for time.
Time after time by Cyndi Lauper
This hit love song has been a favorite for generations and details how time plays a role in relationships.
Until next time!
Now that you have a broader understanding of language involving time, it is your turn to head out and use what you have learned. There are plenty of creative ways to discuss time and how it impacts us, so remember to have fun with it, and practice makes perfect.
Next up, you might want to round up your learning with English numbers or the English alphabet?
Otherwise, check out our English language learning blog for more fun English vocabulary articles or even explore online English class.