Asking and telling time in French is pretty useful in real life — whether you’re traveling to a French-speaking country, or trying to make an appointment, or even looking for a conversation ice-breaker. It’s an essential skill to know how to tell the time in French.
But what are the key French vocabulary words related to time? Is it just a matter of few formulas combined to numbers in French? And how to master the basics of telling time in French?
In this article, you’ll learn how to ask what time it is and you’ll discover useful French vocabulary words that you should know to express time in French:
- Periods of time in French
- Telling time in French
- Use “moins”
- The 24-hour clock
- Periods of the day
- The fractions
- How To Ask For The Time In French?
- How to give time in French?
Periods of Time in French
Learn the periods of time in French and listen to the right pronunciation.
Une seconde: a second
The plural is “les secondes”.
Une minute: a minute
The plural is “les minutes”.
Une heure: a hour
The plural is: “les heures”.
To abbreviate a time in French, use the letter h (for heure).
11h10 means 11:10 in English.
Telling time in French
The simplest formula to tell time in French is “il est” (it is in English).
Il est is impersonal.
From 31 to 59 minutes past the hour, you can say the next hour “moins” the number of minutes.
- Il est sept heures moins dix: 7 hours minus 10, meaning 6:50
- Il est trois heures moins vingt: 3 hours minus 20, meaning 2:40
The 24-hour clock
You need to know the numbers from one to 24.
In French, time is based on the 24-hour clock, like military time.
- Instead of 1 to 11 a.m., followed by 12 to 11 p.m., the clock continues counting up from 12.
- 1 p.m. is 13 in French
- 2 p.m. is 14 in French
- 3 p.m. is 15 in French
- 11 p.m. is 23 in French
- all the way up to 24
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The periods of the day
- Il est 6 heures du matin: it is 6 am or literally it is six hours in the morning.
- Il est midi: it’s noon / it’s midday.
- En hiver il fait nuit à cinq heures de l’après-midi: In the winter, it’s dark at 5 p.m.
- Ils mangent à huit heures du soir: they eat dinner at 8 p.m.
- Je me suis réveillée à minuit: I woke up at midnight.
Those fractions can only be used with 1 to 12.
For 15 minutes past the hour you can say “et quart” (meaning and a quarter).
For 30 minutes past the hour, you can say “et demie” (meaning and a half).
Moins le quart
For a quarter until the hour, you can say “moins le quart” (meaning minus the quarter).
How to ask for the time in French
Both of these phrases mean what time is it? :
These sentences translate to do you have the time? :
How to give the time in French
How to tell the time in French:
After 12pm: Telling time the right way
After 12 pm, you must use “quinze” (instead of “et quart”), “trente” (instead of “et demie”), and “quarante-cinq” (instead of “moins le quart”).
For example, you can use any variation if it’s before noon:
- une heure quinze = une heure et quart: 1:15
- trois heures trente = trois heures et demie: 3:30
- quatre heures quarante-cinq – 4:45 = cinq heures moins le quart: 4:45
BUT if it’s afternoon (after 12) there is a right way, and a wrong way, to tell the time in French. Here are a few examples:
- The right way to tell time: treize heures quinze
- Don’t say:
treize heures et quart
- The right way to tell time: quinze heures trente
- Don’t say:
quinze heures et demie
- The right way to tell time is: seize heures quarante-cinq
- Don’t say:
dix-sept heures moins le quart
Now you know how tell time in French
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