How to say what time it is in English

Telling the Time in English Vocabulary

Complete Guide: How to Ask and Tell Time in English

Understanding how to talk about time in English is one of the key skills for effective communication. Whether you’re traveling abroad, communicating with foreign colleagues, or simply aiming to improve your language skills, the ability to discuss time is indispensable in everyday life.

The importance of being able to talk about time in English:

  • Practicality: Knowing how to ask for and tell time will help you navigate unfamiliar environments, avoid being late for appointments, and effectively plan your day.
  • Cultural competence: Understanding different ways of expressing time in English contributes to a better understanding of English-speaking cultures.
  • Professional necessity: In a business environment, accuracy in matters of time is critically important for successful collaboration and communication.
  • Improvement of general language skills: Learning time-related constructions helps expand vocabulary and improve grammatical skills.

Overview of key concepts:

  • Basic structure: In English, there are standard phrases for asking and telling time, such as “What time is it?” and “It’s…”.
  • 12-hour system: English-speaking countries often use a 12-hour system with “AM” (ante meridiem – before noon) and “PM” (post meridiem – after noon) designations.
  • Hours and minutes: It’s important to understand how to properly express whole hours, halves, quarters, and other time intervals.
  • Formal and informal styles: There are different ways of expressing time depending on the context of communication.
  • Prepositions and adverbs of time: Proper use of words indicating time of day, duration, and frequency of events is key to accurately expressing time concepts.

In this article, we will examine all these aspects in detail, providing practical examples and useful tips for effectively using time constructions in English. Mastering these skills will help you communicate confidently in English in a variety of life situations.

What is past and to in time?

Basic Structure for Asking About Time

In English, there are several standard ways to ask about time. Let’s look at the most common options and their features:

  1. “What time is it?” This is the most direct and common question about time. It’s suitable for most situations, both formal and informal.
  2. “Do you have the time?” This is a more polite form of asking, often used when addressing strangers.
  3. “Could you tell me the time, please?” This is a very polite form, suitable for formal situations.
  4. “What’s the time?” This is an informal variant, often used in conversational speech.
  5. “Have you got the time?” This is another informal variant, common in British English.

Other useful phrases for asking about time:

  • “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”
  • “Can you check the time for me?”
  • “Is it time for…?”

When asking about a specific event time, you can use structures like:

  • “What time does… start/finish?” For example: “What time does the movie start?”
  • “When does… open/close?” For example: “When does the bank open?”

It’s important to remember that in English, questions about time always start with “What” or “When”, not “How”. For example, you can’t say “How time is it?”, this would be a mistake.

By practicing these phrases, you’ll be able to easily and naturally ask about time in various situations, from everyday communication to formal meetings.

Table with Examples of How to Tell Time in English

Time of DayExamples
Morning6:00 AM – Six o’clock in the morning
6:05 AM – Five past six in the morning
6:15 AM – Quarter past six in the morning
6:30 AM – Half past six in the morning
6:45 AM – Quarter to seven in the morning
6:48 AM – Twelve minutes to seven in the morning
7:10 AM – Ten past seven in the morning
8:20 AM – Twenty past eight in the morning
9:40 AM – Twenty to ten in the morning
Afternoon12:00 PM – Twelve o’clock noon / Midday
12:05 PM – Five past twelve in the afternoon
1:15 PM – Quarter past one in the afternoon
2:30 PM – Half past two in the afternoon
3:45 PM – Quarter to four in the afternoon
3:52 PM – Eight minutes to four in the afternoon
4:25 PM – Twenty-five past four in the afternoon
Evening5:00 PM – Five o’clock in the evening
6:10 PM – Ten past six in the evening
7:20 PM – Twenty past seven in the evening
8:35 PM – Twenty-five to nine in the evening
8:48 PM – Twelve minutes to nine in the evening
Night10:00 PM – Ten o’clock at night
11:15 PM – Quarter past eleven at night
11:55 PM – Five to midnight
12:00 AM – Twelve o’clock midnight
12:30 AM – Half past twelve at night
1:40 AM – Twenty to two in the morning / at night
2:08 AM – Eight past two in the morning / at night

Ways to Answer Questions About Time

When asked about the time in English, there are several ways to respond. Let’s look at the main options and their features:

  1. Using “It’s…”

The most common way to answer a question about time is to start with the phrase “It’s…”. For example:

  • “It’s 3 o’clock.”
  • “It’s 4:30.”
  • “It’s quarter past 5.”
  1. Formal Style

In formal situations, you can use complete sentences:

  • “The time is 2:45 PM.”
  • “It is currently 10 minutes to 6.”
  1. Informal Style

In conversational language, shortened forms are often used:

  • “It’s 5.”
  • “Ten past 7.”
  • “Quarter to 9.”
  1. Approximate Time

If you’re not sure of the exact time, you can use phrases like:

  • “It’s about 3:30.”
  • “It’s around noon.”
  1. Digital Format

In some situations, especially in written form or in official contexts, time can be indicated in digital format:

  • “13:45” or “1:45 PM”
  1. Additional Information

Sometimes it’s appropriate to add more context:

  • “It’s 7:30 in the morning.”
  • “It’s just past midnight.”
  1. Answering Specific Questions

If you’re asked about the time of a specific event:

  • “The meeting starts at 2 PM.”
  • “The store closes at 9:30 PM.”

It’s important to remember that in English, time is usually indicated using the 12-hour format, so it’s important to add “AM” or “PM” for clarification if it’s not obvious from the context.

Hours – How to Express Them in English

Understanding how to correctly express hours in English is key to accurately telling time. Let’s look at the main concepts:

  1. Whole Hours: “o’clock”

The word “o’clock” is used to indicate whole hours. It comes from the phrase “of the clock”. Examples:

  • “It’s 5 o’clock.”
  • “The meeting is at 3 o’clock.”
  1. Half Hour: “half past”

To indicate 30 minutes past the hour, the phrase “half past” is used. Examples:

  • “It’s half past 2.”
  • “The train leaves at half past 7.”
  1. Quarter Hour: “quarter past” and “quarter to”

“Quarter past” means 15 minutes after the hour, and “quarter to” means 15 minutes before the next hour. Examples:

  • “It’s quarter past 4.”
  • “The movie starts at quarter to 8.”
  1. When It’s Appropriate to Use “o’clock”

The word “o’clock” is used only with whole hours and only in conversational contexts. It is not used with “AM” or “PM”. Appropriate:

  • “Let’s meet at 6 o’clock.”
  • “The news is on at 9 o’clock.” Inappropriate:
  • “It’s 6:30 o’clock.” (Incorrect)
  • “The party starts at 8 o’clock PM.” (Better to say: “The party starts at 8 PM.”)

In formal contexts or when using digital format, “o’clock” is usually omitted:

  • “The meeting is scheduled for 14:00.”
  • “The flight departs at 07:00 hours.”

It’s important to remember that in conversational English, shortened forms are often used to express time, especially in informal situations. For example, instead of “It is half past 2”, you can simply say “It’s 2:30” or “Half 2” (especially in British English).

Minutes – How to Express Them in English

Accurately expressing time in English often requires indicating minutes. Let’s explore different ways to do this:

  1. Indicating Minutes Before and After the Hour
  • After the hour (up to 30 minutes): “Past” is used to indicate minutes after the hour. Example: “It’s 10 past 7.” (This means 7:10)
  • Before the next hour (after 30 minutes): “To” is used to indicate minutes remaining until the next hour. Example: “It’s 20 to 6.” (This means 5:40)
  1. Special Cases: 5, 10, 20, 25 Minutes
  • “Five past/to”: “It’s five past 8.” (8:05)
  • “Ten past/to”: “It’s ten to 4.” (3:50)
  • “Twenty past/to”: “It’s twenty past 1.” (1:20)
  • “Twenty-five past/to”: “It’s twenty-five to 3.” (2:35)
  1. How to Correctly Express Time with Minutes
  • Standard way: hour + minutes. Example: “It’s 3:45.”
  • Conversational style: minutes + past/to + hour. Example: “It’s 15 past 9.” (9:15)
  1. How to Use “a quarter” and “a half”
  • “A quarter past” (15 minutes after): “It’s a quarter past 6.” (6:15)
  • “A quarter to” (15 minutes before): “It’s a quarter to 12.” (11:45)
  • “Half past” (30 minutes after): “It’s half past 2.” (2:30)

Additional tips:

  • In spoken English, the word “minutes” is often omitted: “It’s five to 9.” instead of “It’s five minutes to 9.”
  • When using digital format, always indicate both digits for minutes: “7:05” (not “7:5”), “14:30” (not “14:3”)
  • In formal situations or in writing, the digital format is often used: “The meeting starts at 15:45.”
  • In American English, “after” is often used instead of “past”: “It’s ten after 8.” (8:10)

AM and PM

English-speaking countries widely use the 12-hour time system, which includes AM and PM designations. Understanding this system is key to correctly expressing and interpreting time.

  1. Explanation of the 12-hour Format System
  • The 12-hour format divides the day into two 12-hour periods. The first half of the day is designated as AM, and the second half as PM.
  • AM (Ante Meridiem) – the period from midnight (12:00 AM) to noon (12:00 PM).
  • PM (Post Meridiem) – the period from noon (12:00 PM) to midnight (12:00 AM).
  1. Using “AM” and “PM”
  • AM is added to times from 12:00 midnight to 11:59 in the morning. Examples: “7:30 AM”, “11:45 AM”
  • PM is added to times from 12:00 noon to 11:59 at night. Examples: “2:15 PM”, “9:00 PM”
  1. AM and PM: The Difference Between Them
  • AM (from midnight to noon): 12:00 AM = midnight, 1:00 AM – 11:59 AM = morning hours
  • PM (from noon to midnight): 12:00 PM = noon, 1:00 PM – 11:59 PM = afternoon and evening hours

Important points:

  • 12:00 AM means midnight (the start of a new day), not noon.
  • 12:00 PM means noon, not midnight.

Examples of usage:

  • “The store opens at 9:00 AM.”
  • “The concert starts at 8:00 PM.”
  • “The flight departs at 12:30 AM.”

Additional tips:

  • In conversational English, “AM” is often omitted for morning hours if it’s clear from context: “I wake up at 6.”
  • To avoid confusion with 12:00, “noon” and “midnight” are often used: “The shop closes at noon.” “The party ends at midnight.”
  • In formal documents or international communication, the 24-hour format is often used to avoid misunderstandings: “The meeting is scheduled for 14:30.”

Alternative Ways to Indicate Time

  1. 24-hour Format The 24-hour format, also known as “military time,” is used to avoid confusion between AM and PM.
  • Hours are counted from 00:00 (midnight) to 23:59.
  • After 12:00 (noon), hours continue to be counted up to 23.


  • 13:00 = 1:00 PM
  • 18:30 = 6:30 PM
  • 22:45 = 10:45 PM


  • “The train departs at 14:45.”
  • “The meeting is scheduled for 09:30.”
  1. Digital Format The digital format is used for precise time notation, especially in written form or official documents.
  • Hours and minutes are separated by a colon.
  • Two digits are always used to denote minutes.


  • 9:05 (not 9:5)
  • 14:30
  • 00:00 (midnight)


  • “The flight leaves at 07:15.”
  • “Please arrive by 18:00.”

Additional notes:

  • The 24-hour format is widely used in many countries, especially in Europe, for official schedules, transportation timetables, and in the military.
  • In some countries, a period (.) is used instead of a colon (:) to separate hours and minutes in the 24-hour format, e.g., 14.45 instead of 14:45.
  • When using the 24-hour format, it’s not necessary to specify AM or PM, as the time of day is inherent in the number.
  • The digital format can be used with both 12-hour and 24-hour systems, but it’s important to include AM/PM when using the 12-hour system to avoid ambiguity.

Times of Day in English

  1. Words Indicating Times of Day
  • Morning: from dawn to noon
  • Afternoon: from noon to about 5-6 PM
  • Evening: from the end of the day until night falls
  • Night: when it’s dark, typically from 9-10 PM until dawn
  1. How to Use These Words in Sentences

a) With the preposition “in”:

  • “I wake up early in the morning.”
  • “We often go for walks in the evening.”

b) With the preposition “at”:

  • “The stars are beautiful at night.”
  • “I’ll see you at noon.”

c) For greetings:

  • “Good morning!”
  • “Good afternoon!”
  • “Good evening!”
  • “Good night!” (used when saying goodbye before going to sleep)

d) To describe when events occur:

  • “The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.”
  • “We’re having a party on Saturday night.”

e) With verbs:

  • “I prefer to study in the morning.”
  • “They usually have dinner in the evening.”

Additional expressions:

  • “All night long”
  • “Early morning”
  • “Late afternoon”
  • “Mid-morning”

Note: In English, these time-of-day expressions are quite flexible and can vary slightly based on personal interpretation and regional differences. For example, the exact transition from afternoon to evening might be perceived differently depending on the season or location. The key is to use these terms to give a general sense of when something occurs within the day.

Prepositions of Time

  1. Main Time Prepositions (at, in, on)

a) At:

  • Used for specific times
  • For certain periods of the day

b) In:

  • For longer periods of time (months, years, centuries)
  • For parts of the day

c) On:

  • For days of the week
  • For specific dates
  1. Their Use in Time Context

a) At:

  • “At 3 o’clock”
  • “At noon”
  • “At midnight”
  • “At Christmas”

b) In:

  • “In July”
  • “In 2023”
  • “In the morning”
  • “In the 21st century”

c) On:

  • “On Monday”
  • “On July 4th”
  • “On New Year’s Eve”

Additional examples:

  • “The train arrives at 7:30 PM.”
  • “We’re going on vacation in August.”
  • “The meeting is on Friday afternoon.”

Note: While these rules generally apply, there can be some exceptions or variations in usage, especially in different English-speaking regions or in specific contexts. For instance, some speakers might say “at the weekend” (British English) while others say “on the weekend” (American English). The key is to be consistent in your usage and to pay attention to how native speakers in your target region use these prepositions.

Time Adverbs in English

  1. Commonly Used Time Adverbs
  • Now – at the present time or moment Example: “We need to leave now.”
  • Then – at that time (in the past or future) Example: “We lived in New York then.”
  • Soon – in the near future, after a short time Example: “The bus will arrive soon.”
  • Later – at a time in the future, after the present time Example: “Can we discuss this later?”
  • Already – before now, before or by this time Example: “I’ve already finished my homework.”
  • Yet – up to this time (usually in negative sentences or questions) Example: “Have you finished your dinner yet?”
  • Still – continuing until and including the present or the time mentioned Example: “It’s midnight and she’s still working.”
  • Always – at all times, on every occasion Example: “He always wears a hat.”
  • Never – at no time, not ever Example: “I have never been to Australia.”
  • Often – many times, frequently Example: “We often go to the beach in summer.”
  • Sometimes – on some occasions, now and then Example: “Sometimes I like to read before bed.”
  • Rarely – not often, seldom Example: “We rarely eat out at restaurants.”
  1. Their Position in Sentences Time adverbs can occupy different positions in a sentence, depending on their type and the emphasis you want to make:

a) At the beginning of the sentence (for emphasis):

  • “Now, let’s begin the meeting.”
  • “Soon, we’ll be arriving at our destination.”

b) At the end of the sentence:

  • “I’ll see you later.”
  • “Can you finish the report soon?”

c) Before the main verb (for regular verbs):

  • “I often go to the gym.”
  • “She always arrives on time.”

d) After the verb “to be”:

  • “He is never late for work.”
  • “We are already prepared.”

e) Between the auxiliary and main verb:

  • “I have already finished my homework.”
  • “They will soon understand the situation.”

Examples of usage:

  • “I’m leaving now.”
  • “We’ll discuss that later.”
  • “She has never been to Paris.”
  • “The train is already here.”

Note: The placement of time adverbs can affect the emphasis and sometimes the meaning of a sentence. While these guidelines are generally followed, native speakers may sometimes vary the position for stylistic reasons or to stress certain elements of the sentence. It’s also worth noting that some adverbs, like “yet,” have specific rules. For example, “yet” is typically used in negative sentences or questions and usually comes at the end of the sentence.

Words Indicating Duration

  1. For, during, while, throughout

a) For:

  • Indicates a length of time

b) During:

  • Indicates a period when something happens

c) While:

  • Used for actions happening simultaneously

d) Throughout:

  • Means “for the entire duration of”
  1. How to Use These Words in Sentences

a) For:

  • “I’ve been studying English for three years.”
  • “We waited for two hours.”

b) During:

  • “I met many interesting people during my vacation.”
  • “Please turn off your phones during the performance.”

c) While:

  • “I like to listen to music while I’m working.”
  • “She fell asleep while watching TV.”

d) Throughout:

  • “The noise continued throughout the night.”
  • “They remained friends throughout their lives.”

Additional notes:

  • “For” is often used with specific time periods (e.g., “for two days”, “for a month”).
  • “During” is typically used with nouns describing events or periods (e.g., “during the meeting”, “during summer”).
  • “While” is usually followed by a clause (subject + verb), often in the continuous tense.
  • “Throughout” emphasizes the entirety of a period and can be used interchangeably with “during” in some contexts, but with a stronger emphasis on the whole duration.

Useful Time-Related Phrases

  1. “It’s about…” (Approximately…)
  • “It’s about 3 o’clock.”
  • “It’s about time we left.”
  1. “It’s exactly…” (Precisely…)
  • “It’s exactly noon.”
  • “The train leaves at exactly 7:30.”
  1. How to Ask “How Long” in English

a) “How long…?”

  • “How long does the movie last?”
  • “How long have you been waiting?”

b) “How much time…?”

  • “How much time do we have?”
  • “How much time does it take to get there?”

Additional useful phrases:

  • “What’s the duration of…?” Example: “What’s the duration of the flight?”
  • “How long does it take to…?” Example: “How long does it take to learn a new language?”
  • “At what time…?” Example: “At what time does the store open?”
  • “When does… start/end?” Example: “When does the concert start?”

Note: These phrases are commonly used in everyday conversations about time. “It’s about” is useful for giving approximate times, while “It’s exactly” emphasizes precision. The questions “How long…?” and “How much time…?” are used to inquire about duration, though “How long…?” is more common in everyday speech. The additional phrases provide more ways to ask about timing and duration in various contexts.

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