English language learners often find it difficult to tell the time. There are some differences between how time is read in different languages. The French, for example, observe a 24-hour clock while we use 12. This makes it challenging to tell the time in English. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you understand the rules, you will find it relatively easy. There are two different ways to tell the time in English. We will be looking at that and how to ask for and give time. Read on to learn more!

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How to tell the time in English

Time is an illusion! Oops, that was way off.

Back to business! There are two ways to tell the time in the English language; you can say the hour and then the minutes before the hour. But what do you say when there are no minutes? Let us explain.

You can tell time by starting with the hour and then stating the minutes. For example, 7:10 is read as Seven Ten, 3:09 is read as three O-nine.

You can start by saying the minutes and then tell the hour. But there is a slight hiccup to this. You will have to add “Past or to” before stating the hour. That is Minute + Past/To + hour.

  • If the minutes are between 1-30, you use Past, e.g., 2:10 is read as ten minutes past two.
  • If the minutes fall between 31-and 59, we use “To.” The number of minutes you would state is the difference between the minutes on the clock and 60. For example, 8:51 is not fifty-one minutes to 8; it is 9 minutes to 9.

Using Quarter and Half

The quarter is typically used interchangeably with “15”. When a person says the time is quarter past 4, they say four-fifteen (4:15). When it is 15 minutes before the hour, it can be read as ‘quarter to.’ E.g., 2:45 – quarter to three.

We use half when the time is thirty minutes past the hour. For instance, 2:30 can be read as two-thirty, but you can also read this as half-past two.

Using o’clock

What do you say when there are no minutes? Keep it short and straightforward. We use “o’clock” when there are no minutes before or after the hour. E.g., 10 O’clock (10:00), 7 o’clock (7:00), etc. If the time is 12:00, you can read it as midday (noon), midnight, or simply twelve o’clock.

How to ask for the time

ask for the time

You are on vacation and need help learning what time it is. Or your plane is in transit, and you would like to know when the next flight leaves. These real-life scenarios can become quite challenging if you do not know what to say. Here are some common questions to ask for the time:

  • What is the time?
  • What time is it?

If you ask a stranger, you may want to say, “Could you tell me the time, please?” That is a more polite alternative.  To find out the particular time an event will be taking place, you can use “when and what time.”

For example: – what time does the movie start?

  • When do we leave for dinner?

How to give time

 What do you say to someone asking you for the time? Just blurt out the numbers? We don’t think so. Let us teach you how to respond correctly.

  • If a person asks for the time, you can respond by saying, “it is,” followed by the time of day. E.g., it is six o’clock.
  • If they want to know the specific time an event will occur, we use “at,” e.g., the show starts at midnight.
  • Try using subject pronouns when referring to people or things. For instance: he leaves at noon. ‘It starts at midnight. Etc

When to use AM and PM

Since we do not use the 24-hour clock in the English language, you have to master when to use AM and when to use PM. AM is used for the morning, while PM is used for the afternoon and night. After midday/noon, you can use PM. for instance:

  • 9 am – nine o’clock in the morning
  • 9 pm – nine o’clock in the night

A common mistake learners make is saying “9 am in the morning”. That is a tautology. If you use AM or PM, there is no need to add morning or afternoon.


What time is it? It is time to wrap up this article. Here are a few things we hope you take away from this article; in English, we do not use the 24-hour clock, saying “3 pm in the afternoon” is a big no, and when asking for the time, you can use “what is” and “when.” It is pretty easy to master, but it always helps to have a professional tutor to help you. Working with experienced and dedicated tutors is the best way to learn English. To learn more about telling time in English, book lessons with italki today!

Find Your Perfect Teacher

At italki, you can find your English tutor from all qualified and experienced teachers. Now experience the excellent language learning journey!

Book a trial lesson