Telling the time in English
On this page, let's look at telling the time. This is more than just numbers - you need to be able to use different phrases. Let's start by looking at parts of the day.
|Time||Part of the day|
|0:00 to 12:00||Morning|
|0:00 to 11:59||A.M.|
|12:00||Midday / Noon|
|12:00 - 23:59||P.M.|
|12:01 to 18:00||Afternoon|
|18:00 to 22:00||Evening|
|22:00 - 23:59||Night|
Some example phrases for hours:
- 9:00 - It's nine o'clock in the morning / It's nine o'clock / It's nine a.m.
- 12:00 - It's midday / it's 12 noon / It's noon / It's twelve o'clock
- 3:00 - It's three o'clock in the afternoon / It's three o'clock / It's three p.m.
- 19:00 - It's seven o'clock in the evening / It's seven o'clock / It's seven p.m.
- 23:00 - It's eleven o'clock at night / It's eleven o'clock / It's eleven p.m.
Now let's look at the phrases used for parts of an hour.
From 1 minute past the hour to 30 minutes past the hour (for example from 3:01 to 3:30), we use the phrase 'past'
3:10 - It's ten past three.
9:25 - It twenty five past nine.
For 31 minutes past the hour to 59 minutes past the hour (for example from 3:31 to 3:59), we use the phrase 'to'
3:40 - It's twenty to four.
9:55 - It's five to ten.
There are three other clock times that you need to know, where one hour is divided into 15 minute sections:
- 3:15 – It’s quarter past three / It’s three fifteen.
- 6:30 – It’s half past six / It’s six thirty.
- 11:45 – It’s quarter to twelve/ It’s eleven forty five.
NOTE: American English uses ’till’ instead of ‘to’ (e.g. 9:55 – It’s five till ten. 11:45 – It’s quarter till twelve)
In most conversations, when telling the time in English, you already know the hour – you just need to know the minutes.
- John: What time is it? I think my lunch break is over.
- Jane: It’s twenty five past, and you don’t start work until half past. You’ve got another 5 minutes.
When you are talking about approximate time, you can use ‘nearly’ or ‘just gone/just after’.
Here are some other expressions that you can use to ask about the time.
- Do you have the time?
- What time is it?
- What is the time?
- Do you know what time is it?
- Can you tell me what time it is, please?
- Could you tell me the time, please?
- What time do you make it?
Let’s review this page:
- Sue: What time do you start work tomorrow?
- Dave: 10 o’clock in the morning, but I have a break at midday.
- John: Excuse me, can you tell me what time it is, please?
- Dave: Yes, it’s just gone eleven.
- Jane: What time do you make it?
- Dave: It’s nearly half past.
- John: Do you have the time?
- Eric: It’s quarter to four.
Now practice your skills with an exercise. Take the test below and see how you get on!
Practice telling the time in English
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Match a clock time with a sentence. Drag the time into the right box.
Go back to sleep – it's 3 AM!
It’s just gone 3
It’s quarter to 4
It’s just gone twenty past three.
It’s nearly twenty to 4.
Time to go – it’s half past three already!