Asking for and Telling The Time in French (With Audio)

Updated: April 24, 2021 by Mylene in Guides and Tips

how to tell time in french

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

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).

For example: 

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.

For example:

Use “moins”

From 31 to 59 minutes past the hour, you can say the next hour “moins” the number of minutes.

For example:

  • 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.

For example:

  • Instead of 1 to 11 a.m., followed by 12 to 11 p.m., the clock continues counting up from 12.

For example:

  • 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

The periods of the day

Du matin

For example:

  • Il est 6 heures du matin: it is 6 am or literally it is six hours in the morning.

Midi

Example:

  • Il est midi: it’s noon / it’s midday.

De l’après-midi

For example:

  • En hiver il fait nuit à cinq heures de l’après-midi: In the winter, it’s dark at 5 p.m.

Du soir

For example:

  • Ils mangent à huit heures du soir: they eat dinner at 8 p.m.

Minuit

Minuit: midnight

Example:

  • Je me suis réveillée à minuit: I woke up at midnight.

The fractions

Those fractions can only be used with 1 to 12.

Et quart

For 15 minutes past the hour you can say “et quart” (meaning and a quarter).

For example:

Et demie

For 30 minutes past the hour, you can say “et demie” (meaning and a half).

For example:

Moins le quart

For a quarter until the hour, you can say “moins le quart” (meaning minus the quarter).

For example:

examples clock sentences give time in french

How to ask for the time in French

Formal

Casual

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:

pin sentences to tell 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:

  • 13:15
    • The right way to tell time: treize heures quinze
    • Don’t say: treize heures et quart
  • 15:30
    • The right way to tell time: quinze heures trente
    • Don’t say: quinze heures et demie
  • 16:45:
    • 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

And now it’s the right time to join our online French courses and to explore the many benefits that Master Your French has to offer.

At the same time, you can find similar articles in our how-to french guides where you can see how to write a professional email in French or also learn how to ask for and give directions in French.

A bientôt !

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