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 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
Une minute: a minute
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Une heure: a hour
Telling time in French
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
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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
The periods of the day
Du matin: in the morning or a.m (between midnight and 11 a.m.).
- Il est 6 heures du matin: it is 6 am or literally it is six hours in the morning.
Those fractions can only be used with 1 to 12.
Moins le quart
How to ask for the time in French
How to give 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 after noon (after 12) there are a right way, and a wrong way, to tell 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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