Telling the Time

English Vocabulary

Telling the time in English

There are two common ways of telling the time.

1) Say the hour first and then the minutes. (Hour + Minutes)

2) Say the minutes first and then the hour.  (Minutes + PAST / TO + Hour)

For minutes 1-30 we use PAST after the minutes.

For minutes 31-59 we use TO after the minutes.

When it is 15 minutes past the hour we normally say: (a) quarter past

When it is 15 minutes before the hour we normally say: a quarter to

When it is 30 minutes past the hour we normally say: half past


We use o'clock when there are NO minutes.

Sometimes it is written as 9 o'clock (the number + o'clock)


For 12:00 there are four expressions in English.

Telling the time video

Asking for the Time

The common question forms we use to ask for the time right now are:

A more polite way to ask for the time, especially from a stranger is:

The common question forms we use to ask at what time a specific event will happen are:

What time...?


Giving the Time

We use It is or It's to respond to the questions that ask for the time right now.

We use the structure AT + time when giving the time of a specific event.

We can also use subject pronouns in these responses.

AM vs. PM

We don't normally use the 24-hour clock in English.

We use a.m. (am) for the morning and p.m. (pm) for the afternoon and night.

3am = Three o'clock in the morning.

3pm = Three o'clock in the afternoon.

Next Activity

Try our interactive games to practice telling the time at: Telling the Time 1 and Telling the Time 2.

Check out our grammar notes about using prepositions of time.

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