Telling Time in English: Complete Guideline & Examples

Telling time in English can be easy! If you are not sure how to tell time or how to write time in English, you are in the right place! This article will provide you with a systematic guideline and lots of examples for telling time in English. Even if you are an English beginner, you will know how to tell the time after reading this article no matter what time it is!

If you want to learn other related topics like months name in English, we recommend you to take beginner English lessons on AmazingTalker!

Rules for Telling Time in English

English has its own rules for telling time. What do “quarter past” or “half to 6” mean? What’s the easiest way to tell the time in English when one asks for it? In the following section, we will help you to learn the knowledge about telling time in English step-by-step.

o’clock

If the time is 1:00, 2:00,…,12:00, it’s the easiest time to tell. You can simply use “the hour + o’clock” to tell the time.

5:00 = five o’clock

“O’clock” can even be omitted in most cases.

10:00 = ten

Tell the Hour then the Minute

If the minute is not “00”, instead, it’s 01~59, we can use “the hour + the minute” to tell the time. It’s worth noting that when the minute is 01~09, you have to add “o” when you say the minute.

11:31 = eleven thirty-one
2:04 = two o four
3:09 = three o nine

Time of the Day (Morning, Afternoon, Midnight / a.m. & p.m.)

In English, native speakers usually don’t use 24-hours time unless they are in the army. This means people don’t express time in a format like 13:00 or 21:50. Therefore, we need to add a more specific time if needed. Here’s a table of common terms and the prepositions to use for telling the time more accurately.

00:00midnightin the midnight
00:00~06:00middle of the nightin the middle of the night
06:00~12:00morningin the morning
12:00noonat noon
12:00~18:00afternoonin the afternoon
18:00~24:00night/eveningat night/in the evening

To apply these terms, we can use “number of the hour + the phrases in orange” to tell the specific time.

08:00 = eight o’clock in the morning
20:05 = eight o five in the evening

An easier way is to replace the orange part above with “a.m./p.m.”:

00:00~11:59a.m.
12:00~23:59p.m.
08:00 = eight a.m.
20:05 = eight o five p.m.

Please note that we don’t use a.m./p.m. and morning/evening at the same time. For example, when you say 8 a.m., people already know you mean 8 o’clock in the morning. So it’s redundant to say “Eight a.m. in the morning”.

Tell the Minute then the Hour

Instead of telling the hour and then the minute, an alternative way to tell time in English is to tell the minute first and then the hour.

  • When the minute is 15, 30, or 45: use quarter/half

When the minute is 15, we can use “quarter past + the hour”, because “quarter” means 1/4 in English, and 1/4 of 60 minutes(one hour) is 15 minutes. By the same token, with a slight change of the preposition, we can use “quarter to + the next hour” when the minute is 45. Because when the minute is 45, it is 15 minutes (a quarter of an hour) to go to the next hour.

14:15 = a quarter past 2 p.m.
14:45 = a quarter to 3 in the afternoon

When the minute is 30, we use the term “half”, since 30 minutes is half of 60 minutes(one hour). So the structure will be “half past + the hour” or “half to + the next hour”.

5:30 = half to six a.m. = half past five in the early morning
  • When the minute is not 00, 15, 30, or 45

Now you should be able to understand the clock you saw at the top of this page! When the minute of the time is 15, 30, 45, and 00, we can use “quarter past”, “half past/to”, “quarter to”, and “o’clock” to express the time. But how to tell the time when the minute is not mentioned above?

In general rules, we divide the clock into two parts. When the minute is between 01~30, which means when the minute is on the right half of the clock, we use “the minute + past + the hour”.

9:13 p.m. = thirteen past nine in the evening
16:20 = twenty past four p.m.
the time the clock below shows = ten past ten

For the other half of the clock, which means when the minute is between 30~59, we use the “the minute + to + the next hour”. Don’t forget that besides telling the minute and then the hour, you can also tell the hour and then the minute.

21:40 = twenty to ten at night = nine forty p.m.
6:56 = four to seven in the morning = six fifty-six a.m.

How to Ask for the Time in English?

In the previous section, we guide you to learn rules for telling the time no matter what time it is. Now, it’s also important to know how to ask for and tell the time in a conversation. Imagine you are in another country, and someone asks you for the time in English. Will you understand and know how to answer the question?

When you want to know the time at the moment but don’t have a watch/clock with you, you can ask other people “What time is it (now)?” or “Do you have the time?”. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t say “Do you have time?” because it has a totally different meaning. With and without “the” can mean very differently, though it’s confusing for English beginners, you can pick it up in the short term if you learn the English grammar for “the.

To tell the time, we can use “It’s + the time” to answer the questions above.

A: “Excuse me. My train will arrive at a quarter past six. What time is it now?” 
B: “It's six ten. You still have five minutes to go!”
A: “Phew! Thanks!”

How to Ask for the Time in the Future?

Sometimes we want to ask for the time for something that will happen in the future. We can use “What time/When will…?” or “What time/When isgoing to…?”.

A: What time will the meeting start? 
B: Half past eight.
A: In the morning, right?
B: Yes. Eight thirty a.m. See you tomorrow morning!
A: When is the match going to start? 
B: It will start at seven p.m.

How to Ask for the Time in the Past?

We can use “When/What time was it when…” or “When/What time did” to ask for a time in the past.

A: What time was it when the earthquake happened last night? 
B: It was (a) quarter past nine.
A: I really hope I could stay longer yesterday! By the way, when did Tom leave last night?
B: He stayed overnight since he was too drunk. I think he left around seven o’clock in the morning.

Now it’s Time to Practice!

Just like other languages, English has its own logic and rules for telling time. This article provides you with a comprehensive guideline step-by-step for how we can tell the time in English. Even if you are an English beginner, you will know how to ask for and tell the time no matter what time it is. After reading this article and practicing, you should be able to give a proper reaction next time someone asks you for the time in English.

Telling time in English should be easy for you now after going through this article! It’s important to know how to tell the time in English. Besides English, if you also want to learn how to tell the time in Spanish or time in French, language tutors on AmazingTalker are your best partners!

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