Telling the Time in English for Beginners
Telling the Time

Telling the time in English

Telling the time can be very confusing because of all the numbers. Now, try learning how to tell the time in a different language and it can send you into complete bewilderment!

When learning to tell the time; the easiest way is to use a real clock while you learn. Certainly, when you can look at the clock while you learn; you will find it much easier to follow and understand. 

So, let’s jump straight into it and learn how to tell the time in English!

1 - Minutes

Telling the time

The hours of the clock are 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the minutes on the clock. There are 2 ways we can tell the time using minutes. 

Make sure you can understand both! Also, note when we use ‘past’ and when we use to.

For example, we will use 2 o’clock as our guide;

What time is it?

  • 2:00 o’clock = It’s two o’clock
  • 2:05 = It’s five past two
  • 2:10 = It’s ten past two
  • 2:15 = It’s quarter past two
  • 2:20 = It’s twenty past two 
  • 2:25 = It’s twenty-five past two
  • 2:30 = It’s half past two
  • 2:35 = It’s twenty-five to three
  • 2:40 = It’s twenty to three
  • 2:45 = It’s quarter to three
  • 2:50 = It’s ten to three
  • 2:55 = It’s five to three
  • 3:00 = It’s three o’clock

Here is a great video for telling the time in English.

2 - O’clock

Big Ben

This is probably the word that is most associated with telling the time. O’clock is used after the hour.

Here are a few examples;

  • 3:00 o’clock
  • 5:00 o’clock
  • 8:00 o’clock
  • 11:00 o’clock

However; o’clock is not used when there are minutes in the time. For example;

  • 3:10 (It’s 10 past 3)
  • 5:20 (It’s 20 past 5)
  • 8:35 (It’s 25 to 9)
  • 11:55 (It’s 5 to 12)

Let’s have a look at 2 examples;

Example 1:

  • Amy invites Emma to go out for dinner at 8 o’clock.
  • Should Emma meet Amy in the morning or in the evening?
  • Answer: In the evening because Amy said dinner in her sentence. We eat dinner in the evening. 

Example 2:

  • Lisa wants to invite Sarah to watch a movie with her at 8 o’clock.
  • Should Sarah meet her in the morning or in the evening?
  • Answer: We don’t know! Lisa did not say if it was 8 a.m / 8 in the morning or 8 p.m / 8 in the evening!

Therefore, it is very important to use a.m. (in the morning) or p.m. (in the evening) when there is no indication in the sentence. 

That brings us on to our next topic;

3 - Parts of the Day

Moon in the Sky

There are two terms we use to tell what part of the day it is;

  • a.m. = morning
  • p.m.= evening

So, If Lisa invites Sarah to watch a movie at 8:00 p.m.; she is inviting her to watch a movie at 8 in the evening. Easy!

In addition to a.m. and p.m., there are 4 other parts of the day to be aware of. They are;

  1. Morning = From 12 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  2. Afternoon = From 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  3. Evening = From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  4. Night = From 9 p.m. to 12a.m.

Here are some examples;

  • I eat my breakfast at 8 a.m. or I eat my breakfast at 8 in the morning.
  • Nell plans to meet her friend for coffee at 2:10 p.m or Nell plans to meet her friend at 2:10 in the afternoon.
  • Jack usually goes for a run at 7:30 p.m. or Jack usually goes for a run at 7:30 in the evening.

We can also use the following names for a specific time of day:

  • 12:00 p.m = Midday / Noon
  • 12:00 a.m = Midnight
  • 6:00 a.m = Dawn

Here are a few examples;

  • Peter goes for lunch at noon every day.
  • Liam stayed up until midnight last night!
  • I could hear the birds singing at dawn.

So, now that we have all of this information, how do we actually ask someone for the time?

Well, that brings us to the next part of this blog;

4 - How to ask for the time

Telling the time

These are the most common ways to ask for the time;

  • What time is it?
  • What’s the time?
  • Do you know what time it is?
  • Do you have the time?
  • Have you got the time?

*As well as this; If you need to ask a stranger for the time; be sure to say Excuse me, before you ask.

For example,

  • “Excuse me; do you know what time it is?”
  • “Excuse me; what’s the time?”

Subsequently, how do we reply to someone who has asked for the time?

5 - Giving the time

Telling the time

If someone asks you for the time, there are many ways you can answer; such as;

  • It’s ….
  • It is …
  • Of course! It’s …
  • Sure! It’s just gone …
  • I’m sorry! I don’t have the time!

For instance;

Example 1;

  • Person A: Excuse me, have you got the time?
  • Person B: Yes! It’s 6 pm!
  • Person A: Thank you!

Example 2;

  • Person A: Excuse me, do you have the time?
  • Person B: Sure! It is 6:30 pm
  • Person A: Thanks!

Example 3;

  • Person A: Excuse me, what is the time?
  • Person B: I’m sorry! I don’t have the time!
  • Person A: No problem!

Well, how did you find that? The final part of this blog includes some example sentences that you can follow and try to recreate by yourself.

Note how we use ‘at’, ‘around’ and ‘in’.

Example sentences for telling the time in English

  • Tina will meet her Mother at quarter past four in the afternoon. (4:15 p.m)
  • John usually arrives to work around half past eight in the morning (8:30 a.m)

*In this sentence, when we use around; it means it is not a definite time.  In short; John may arrive at work at 8:25 or 8:35*

  • Justine will arrive at the airport in 3 hours.

 *To sum up; if it is 2 p.m now, Justine will arrive at 5 p.m*

Now, do you think telling the time is easier than you thought?

So, there you have it. How to tell the time using various methods. As mentioned earlier, try to use a clock when you learn and practice this. It will be much easier to understand!

As well as this; it is also a great help to practice with someone else. Maybe they would like to practice telling time too! For instance; you could create a dialogue using ‘telling time’ as the goal, or quiz each other on the parts of the day, etc.

Then, once you get the hang of it, you will find it easy. So, get practicing!

Was telling the time made easier for you by reading this blog? Then check out our bookstore for another convenient way to learn English!

More Useful Tips To Help You Improve Your English

Can you say the date in English? Today is the 13th of December, 2005! Learn to read the date in English in different ways.

Do you know how to use Prepositions of Time? For example; I have a meeting ON Monday AT 3 p.m. Here we have more great examples to help you!

Learn how to train your brain to think in English! Try these methods to help you think in English!

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