How to Tell the Time

How to Tell the Time

LEVEL 1, 2 |

We can ask for the time in different ways. We can also tell the time in different ways.

Listen to this podcast to learn more.


Written and voiced by Inna Zharuk


Словарь Ножницы Перевод Значение Замена

How to Tell the Time

First of all let's think how we can ask the time. There are three questions which people prefer to use:

What's the time?
What time is it?
Have you got the right time?

To answer these questions we start by saying:

The time is … or It's

Here is a typical dialogue:

– What is the time?
– It is five o'clock.

We use the preposition at when we say what time we will do something.

I'll come back at 6 o'clock.
He is going to meet his friends at 8.

There are a few options how to tell the time in English.
The first one is very simple you just say numbers one by one. For example:

2.00 – two o'clock.
9.05 – nine oh five.
7.15 – seven fifteen.
3.25 – three twenty‐five.
8.30 – eight thirty.
4.39 – four thirty‐nine.
12.45 – twelve forty‐five.
10.51 – ten fifty‐one.
1.59 – one fifty‐nine.

Some students want to use point between hours and minutes, for example 10.30 (ten thirty) they say ten point thirty.
Don't do that, the word ‘point' is for Maths not for telling the time.

The other way to tell the time is a bit more difficult. Firstly, we say minutes, secondly we say hours. Also we need to
use two prepositions: past and to.

Past is used when the big hand or minute hand is between numbers 1 and 6. For example:

9.05 – nine oh five we can say five minutes past nine or five past nine.

We can skip or say the word minutes.

3.25 – three twenty‐five or twenty‐five past three.

Instead of fifteen we can say a quarter.

7.15 – seven fifteen or fifteen minutes past seven or a quarter past seven.

Instead of thirty we can say half.

8.30 – eight thirty or thirty minutes past eight or half past eight.

We use the preposition to when the minute hand on a clock is between numbers 6 and 12. For example:

4.39 – four thirty‐nine we can say twenty‐one minutes to five.
12.45 – twelve forty‐five or fifteen to one or a quarter to one.
10.51 – ten fifty‐one or nine minutes to eleven.
1.59 – one fifty‐nine we can say one minute to two.

Because there are 24 hours in a day we sometimes say:

13.05 – thirteen oh five
20.15 – twenty fifteen

But in English people usually use only twelve hours to tell the time. That's why we will need to learn two terms am and pm.
The abbreviation am stands for ante meridiem and means 'before noon' or 'before twelve o'clock noon'. That means when we tell the time between midnight and noon we use am.

3.56 – three fifty‐six am or four minutes to four am. This time shows early morning.
8.00 – eight o'clock am. This is the time when we usually get up.

The abbreviation pm stands for post meridiem and means 'after noon' or 'after twelve o'clock noon'. That means when we tell the time between noon and midnight we use pm.

13.45 – thirteen forty‐five or one forty‐five pm or a quarter to two pm. This is the time when we have lunch.
23.05 – twenty‐three oh five or eleven oh five pm or five minutes past eleven pm. It is when we go to bed.

We often use 12 noon instead of 12 pm, and we prefer to say 12 midnight, not 12 am.

Now let's sum up.

Here are some examples and different ways to tell the time.

He gets up at 7.15: seven fifteen am/a quarter past seven am.
He gets to work at 8.30: eight thirty am/half past eight am.
He has lunch at 13.00: one o'clock pm.
He goes to the gym at 18.45: six forty‐five am/a quarter to seven pm.
He comes home at 20.10: eight ten pm/ten past eight pm.
He goes to bed at 23.55: eleven fifty‐five pm/five minutes to twelve pm.

I hope the information was useful for you.

Thanks for listening.