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How to ask and tell time in French

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

If you are traveling to France or dealing with Francophones, it is essential to know how to ask and tell time in French. Whether you want to make an appointment, invite someone, or ask for information about departures or arrivals, you need to master the art of telling time.

Do you know how to say the 24 hour clock time or the 12 hours? What about saying am and pm in French? If one of your answers is no, then start reading this to find out more about it.

Situations where you need to know how to tell time

Asking about time can happen in several situations.

Let's consider you are not wearing a watch but you need to know the time. You might want to ask someone else. You can also be asked for time.

At the train station or airport, if you want to ask for the arrivals or departures times or even understand the announcements, you need again some time telling literacy.

When inviting a guest in French, you would certainly want to tell them at what time they should come. And if you are the one who is invited you might want to gently ask the time of the event.

For appointments with the doctor, professional meetings, you need to agree on the time.

Well, its importance is no more to be demonstrated.

How do you say what time is it in French?

If you want to tell the time, the first thing to do is to master numbers from 0 to 60. The basic sentence you need to learn is Il est quelle heure? which means what time is it?

You can also use the formulation Quelle heure est-il? This also means the same but it's more formal.

The other way would be Tu as l'heure s'il te plaît? or Vous avez l'heure s'il vous plaît? Meaning : Do you have the time please?

Tu or vous all refer to the English word You but they should be used with care depending on the relationship you have with the person you are addressing.

It is ... O'clock

To tell the time, you should say the time followed by the minutes :

Il est + Number + heure(s) + minutes. When it is the exact time (o'clock), you can omit the minutes.

Example :

1h00 => Il est une heure. (it's 1 o'clock)

2h00 => Il est deux heures. (it's 2 O'clock)

12h00 => Il est douze heures. (it's 12h o'clock)

Note that "heure" is a noun and it might take or not an "S", depending on whether it is singular or plural.

As you have noticed to abbreviate time in French, unlike in English, we use the letter "h" between the hour and the minutes.

How to tell the time according to the 24 hours clock?

It's important to note that French people use the 24 hours clock. This is the formal way of telling time. It is even the easiest one since it just requires that you know well your numbers.

It follows the pattern Il est + Number + heure(s) + minutes.

Take note that midnight can be either vingt-quatre heures or zéro heure.

Example :

6h30 => Il est six heures trente. (it's 6.30 am)

18h30 = > Il est dix-huit heures trente. (it's 6.30 pm)

In the following infographic, you have many more examples with the notions of half-past time, a quarter to, a quarter past, ...

Am and pm or the 12 hours clock time telling

The 12 hours clock is the informal way of telling time. When using this time format, you might need to give more precisions about the moment of the day (Not always)

Below is how to say the moments of the day :

  • du matin stands for am

  • de l'après-midi is for pm (afternoon)

  • du soir for pm too (evening)

Example : 2 am => Il est deux heures du matin.

2 pm => Il est deux heures de l'après-midi

Some notions are also important to know.

  • Demi(e) is used to say half an hour. Il est trois heures et demie du matin => It is 3.30 am

  • Pile means O'clock. Il est midi pile. (It's 12 O'clock)

  • From 1 to 30 minutes you just say the time by telling the number of minutes after the hour. When it's the time past 15 minutes (a quarter past + hour), we use the expression et quart. Example : Il est quatre heures et quart. (It's 4.15 )

  • From 31 to 59 minutes you can say the next hour minus (moins) the remaining time. When it's 15 minutes to an hour (a quarter to+hour), we use the expression moins le quart.

Example : 8:40 => Il est neuf heures moins vingt.

7:45 => Il est huit heures moins le quart

Take note that midnight is minuit and noon is midi.

In the picture below, you'll see more examples.

Note that It's not possible to combine the formal and the informal way of telling time. For 2.30 pm I CAN SAY Il est quatorze heures trenteOR ll est deux heures et demie de l'après-midi.BUT I CANNOT SAY Il est deux heures trente.⛔

Some Prepositions used to tell time

Some prepositions are useful for speaking about time. To make them easier to remember, you will find below some examples of sentences.

  • À quelle heure arrive le train?(At what time the train arrives?)

  • Elle est arrivée vers dix-huit heures. (She arrived around 6 pm)

  • Notre magasin est ouvert tous les jours de 09 heures à 20 heures (Our shop is opened everyday from 9am to 8pm.)

  • Il a fini ses devoirs en deux heures. (He finished his homework in 2 hours)

  • Il dort depuis vingt heures. (He is sleeping since 8pm)

  • Le train part dans 30 minutes (The train leaves in 30 mns)

  • Le professeur a parlé pendant deux heures (The teacher has spoken during two hours)

  • Il sera en réunion pour une heure. (He will be in a meeting for an hour)

What to take from this time-telling lesson ?

There are two ways of telling time in French : the 24hours clock or the 12 hours clock; the easiest way is the first one.

Il est quelle heure, Il est ..., et demie, et quart, moins le quart, midi or minuit are some of the keywords and sentences that you need to memorize in order to know how to tell the French time the right way.

I hope this lesson was helpful and that you will be able to use it straightforward. Feel free to leave a comment, like, or share it. I would really appreciate it.

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