Telling Time in French


It's important to be able to ask and tell the time in French. You need it to be able to set appointments, make plans, and ask for the time on the street.

To ask what time it is, say:
Quelle heure il est?(courant) or Quelle heure est-il?(formal)
Vous avez l'heure? or Tu as l'heure?

You will always begin your answer with: Il est... heure(s)...

Examples:

Il est huit heures vingt. (It's twenty past eight.)
Il est une heure cinq. (It's five past one.)

To add minutes to the hour, you have to add the word heure(s) (at the singular or plural form, depending if there is one or more hour) before the number of minutes.

You can do this with any number of minutes, but it is most common to only add minutes up to the half hour. Once you get to minutes above thirty, it is common to subtract from the next hour (the same way we might say "It's ten to three" in English), using moins ("minus") and the number of minutes remaining: Il est huit heures moins cinq. [7:55]
Il est une heure moins vingt-cinq. [12:35]

Rather than using the number of minutes, you might use these phrases:
Et quart = quarter past
Il est cinq heures et quart. [5:15]
Et demie = half past
Il est onze heures et demie. [11:30]
Moins le quart= quarter `til
Il est deux heures moins le quart. [1:45]
pile= o'clock
Il est une heure pile. [1:00]
Il est midi. = It's noon.
Il est minuit. = It's midnight.

The abbreviations AM and PM are never used in French. More often, people use the 24-hour calendar, especially for printed calendars. It would not be strange to hear:
Il est vingt heures dix. [8:10 PM]

If the 12 hours clock is being used, the time of day will be indicated by using the following phrases:
Du matin = in the morning (use this before noon)
Il est sept heures et demie du matin. [7:30 AM]
De l'après-midi = in the afternoon (use this after noon and until early evening - tarde extends until it starts to get dark, so a little longer than English speakers think of for "afternoon.")
Il est cinq heures et quart de l'après-midi. [5:15 PM] Du soir = in the evening (use this from the early evening until midnight)
Il est onze heures moins dix du soir. [10:50 PM]
After twelve (noon) o'clock you can use the "official hour" in case you need to be precise and you don't want to precise if it's in the afternoon or the evening:

Examples:

L'avion décollera à vingt heures cinquante-cinq (20H55). (The plane will take off at 8:55pm)

Je quitte mon travail à seize heures (16H00). (I leave my job at 4:00pm)

If you want to tell what time something is happening (i.e., "at 3 o'clock"), use à ("at") in place of Il est.
Nous allons à trois heures au tennis. [We're going at three to the tennis.]
Il y a une reunion à une heure et quart. [There is a meeting at one fifteen.]

To ask "at what time?", use:
À quelle heure...?
À quelle heure vont-ils venir? [At what time are they coming?]

Related Links:
French
Verbs classification in French
Adjective-Noun Agreement in French


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