How To Tell The Time In French – Become A Time Master Quickly And Easily

how-to-tell-the-time-in-french

Learning how to tell the time in French is essential.

Whether it’s for travel, work, meeting with friends or making appointments, you need to master this basic skill.

I know that telling the time can seem tricky at first. But as a French coach, my goal is to help you get through this.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to tell the time like a pro!

Let’s jump in!

The basics of telling the time in French

To tell the time in French, you need to:

  • know your French numbers (from 0 to 59 is enough)
  • use the sentence Il est + (number) + heure(s)

While in English, you can say “It’s four” instead of “It’s four o’clock”, you can’t do the same in French. You would say Il est quatre heures and not Il est quatre.

So make sure to always use the word heure(s).

Here are some simple examples:

  • Il est 1 heure (It’s 1 a.m.)
  • Il est 10 heures (It’s 10 a.m.)
  • Il est 15 heures (It’s 3 p.m.)

Note: When we talk about hours, the number 1 is pronounced as une and not un, because une heure is feminine. All the other numbers are pronounced as usual

The 24-hour clock in French

If you’ve read that last example correctly, you might have wondered “Why are we using 15 here?”.

While most English-speaking countries use the 12-hour clock to tell the time, French uses both the 12-hour clock and 24-hour clock.

Generally, French people prefer the 24-hour clock system though, so it’s good to know it!

Instead of just counting from 1 to 12, you’ll need to go from 1 to 23 (we’ll see in a moment why not 24).

With the 12-hour clockWith the 24-hour clock
If you say Il est 7 heures, it can mean either “It’s 7 a.m.” OR “It’s 7 p.m.”If you say Il est 20 heures,
it means “It’s 8 p.m.”

You see with the 24-hour clock, there’s no confusion possible!

The 12-hour clock in French

But what about telling the time with the 12-hour clock? How do you know if you’re talking about a.m. or p.m.?

It’s simple! 

In French, if we need to specify what time we’re talking about (if it’s not already obvious from the context), we add the following:

  • du matin, refers to a.m.
  • de l’après-midi, refers to the hours from noon until 5 p.m.
  • du soir, refers to the hours from 6 p.m. until midnight

Here are some examples:

  • Il est 3 heures du matin (It’s 3 a.m.)
  • Il est 3 heures de l’après-midi (It’s 3 p.m.)
  • Il est 9 heures du soir (It’s 9 p.m.)

The special cases of 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. in French

To talk about noon in French, you can say:

  • Il est midi (It’s noon)
  • Il est 12 heures (It’s 12 p.m.)

The last sentence works in both the 12-hour clock and 24-hour clock. So you don’t need to say something like Il est 12 heures de l’après-midi to refer to noon.

Another thing: You’ll never hear French people say is Il est 12 heures du matin or Il est 12 heures du soir to refer to midnight.

To talk about midnight in French, you can only say:

  • Il est minuit (It’s midnight)

We don’t say Il est 24 heures either, even if we use the 24-hour clock. That’s why you only need to know your numbers from 1 to 23, not 24!

The full cheat sheet to tell the time on the dot in French

To help you, here’s a full table with all the hours!

English24-hour clock in French12-hour clock in French
It’s 1 a.m.Il est 1 heureIl est 1 heure du matin
It’s 2 a.m.Il est 2 heuresIl est 2 heures du matin
It’s 3 a.m.Il est 3 heuresIl est 3 heures du matin
It’s 4 a.m.Il est 4 heuresIl est 4 heures du matin
It’s 5 a.m.Il est 5 heuresIl est 5 heures du matin
It’s 6 a.m.Il est 6 heuresIl est 6 heures du matin
It’s 7 a.m.Il est 7 heuresIl est 7 heures du matin
It’s 8 a.m.Il est 8 heuresIl est 8 heures du matin
It’s 9 a.m.Il est 9 heuresIl est 9 heures du matin
It’s 10 a.m.Il est 10 heuresIl est 10 heures du matin
It’s 11 a.m.Il est 11 heuresIl est 11 heures du matin
It’s 12 p.m.Il est midi
Il est 12 heures
Il est midi
Il est 12 heures
It’s 1 p.m.Il est 13 heuresIl est 1 heure de l’après-midi
It’s 2 p.m.Il est 14 heuresIl est 2 heures de l’après-midi
It’s 3 p.m.Il est 15 heuresIl est 3 heures de l’après-midi
It’s 4 p.m.Il est 16 heuresIl est 4 heures de l’après-midi
It’s 5 p.m.Il est 17 heuresIl est 5 heures de l’après-midi
It’s 6 p.m.Il est 18 heuresIl est 6 heures du soir
It’s 7 p.m.Il est 19 heuresIl est 7 heures du soir
It’s 8 p.m.Il est 20 heuresIl est 8 heures du soir
It’s 9 p.m.Il est 21 heuresIl est 9 heures du soir
It’s 10 p.m.Il est 22 heuresIl est 10 heures du soir
It’s 11 p.m.Il est 23 heuresIl est 11 heures du soir
It’s 12 a.m.Il est minuitIl est minuit

Now that you know how to tell the time on the dot, let’s see how to deal with some time subtleties!

How to say Quarter Past in French?

If you want to say “quarter past” in French, you can use:

  • et quart
  • quinze (15)

For example:

  • Il est 2 heures et quart (It’s a quarter past two)
  • Il est 7 heures quinze (It’s a quarter past seven)

To talk about any minute between 1 and 29 past the hour, all you need is to say the number of minutes.

  • Il est 14 heures cinq (It’s 2:05)
  • Il est 3 heures dix-huit (It’s 3:18)

How to say Half Past in French?

If you want to say “half past” in French, you can use:

  • et demie
  • trente (30)

For example:

  • Il est midi et demie (It’s half past twelve)
  • Il est 13 heures trente (It’s half past one)

How to say Quarter To in French?

If you want to say “quarter to” in French, you can use:

  • moins le quart
  • moins quinze 
  • quarante-cinq (45)

For example:

  • Il est 5 heures moins le quart (It’s a quarter to five)
  • Il est 4 heures moins quinze (It’s a quarter to four)
  • Il est 8 heures quarante-cinq (It’s 8:45)

To talk about any minute between 31 and 59 to the hour, you have two choices.

  1. You can use moins (minus). For example, Il est 6 heures moins vingt (It’s twenty to six).
  2. You can simply say the number of minutes, like Il est 6 heures quarante (It’s 6:40).

How to ask for the time in French?

Asking for the time is one of the most common French questions.

When you want to ask for the time, you can say:

  • Quelle heure est-il ? (What time is it?)
  • Il est quelle heure ? (What time is it?) – Informal
  • Avez-vous l’heure, s’il vous plaît ? (Do you have the time, please?) 
  • T’as l’heure ? (Do you have the time?) – Super casual

If you want to ask the time of something specific, use à quelle heure.

  • À quelle heure est le film ? (What time is the movie?)
  • Le film est à quelle heure ? (What time is the movie?) – Informal

How to write the time in French?

When we write the time in French, we abbreviate heure(s) by h.

For example:

  • 3 h (3:00)
  • 20 h (8:00)

Note: The proper typography rule is to leave a space between the number and h. However, most French people don’t even know this specific rule and don’t use it. So, writing 13h or 20h is acceptable.

For minuit (midnight), you need to use the number 0 in writing whether you’re using the 12-hour clock or 24-hour clock (so don’t use 12 or 24!).

  • 0 h 25 (0:25)
  • 0 h 47 (0:47)

More useful vocabulary to tell the time in French

Here’s more vocabulary worth knowing to talk about the time in French.

FrenchEnglishExamples
pileon the dot/sharpIl part à midi pile
(He’s leaving at noon on the dot)
àatJe viens à 13 heures
(I’m coming at 1 p.m.)
versaroundJe mange vers 14 heures
(I eat around 2 p.m.)
C’est à quelle
heure ?
At what time
is it?
Je viendrai avec toi. C’est à quelle heure ?
(I’ll go with you. At what time is it?)
presquealmostIl est presque midi
(It’s almost noon)
bientôtsoonIl est bientôt minuit
(It’s midnight soon)

The bottom line

Now you know exactly how to tell the time in French!

You’ve learned all the basics and the vocabulary to give the time and even ask for it, when the next occasion arises…

Practice right now: Look at your clock and write the time in French in the comment section.

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