How to tell the time in English?

Learning Mar 27, 2023

Being able to tell the time is a useful, and important skill you absolutely must learn! When you learn a new language, you don’t only learn words and phrases

You are also taught numbers, but reading time isn’t just about looking at the different numbers on the clock. Let’s have a look at what you need to know to be able to tell the time in English, correctly.

How to use ‘past’ and ‘to’ when telling time

Imagine you are walking down the road, and someone comes up to you and asks, “Do you have the time?”, but you are not completely sure how to correctly tell them the time.

Each hour consists of 60 minutes. When the time is anywhere between 1 and 29, we say it is past a certain hour. 

Example: "It is twenty-five past seven (07:25)"

When the time is between minutes 31 and 59, we use to because it is approaching the next hour. 

Example: " Twenty to ten (09:40)"

In this example you will notice that the person telling the time is indicating how many minutes are left before it is the next hour.

How to use ‘a quarter’ and ‘a half’ when telling the time

When learning how to tell time you will learn that time is divided into quarters and halves. When the time reads 15 minutes after an hour, we refer to it as a quarter past whatever time it may be. 

Example: If the time is 08:15, then we say " it is a quarter past eight."

When the time is at the 45-minute mark then we say "it is a quarter to the next hour"

For example, if the current time is 11:45 then the time will be read as a quarter to twelve.

Sure, a lot of people tell the time as it is. 

For example, “It is now 07:15” instead of saying it is a quarter past seven. 

This is an acceptable way of telling the time, however, if you want to sound like a native English speaker then you should use the correct phrases and words to tell the time.

How to tell the difference between A.M. and P.M

Each day is made up of 24 hours. This means that the time throughout the day will not only display the current time, but it will also display an A.M. or a P.M. 

When the time is between the hours 0 - 11 we refer to it as A.M. 

For example, when it is six in the morning, we say "it is six A.M. (06:00 A.M.)."

Hours 12 – 24 are referred to as P.M.

For example when it is three in the afternoon, we say "it is three P.M. (15:00 P.M.)."

Something interesting that not a lot of people know is that A.M. and P.M. are abbreviations for Latin phrases. The abbreviation A.M. means ante meridiem which translates to “before noon.” And P.M. means post meridiem which translates to “after noon.” 

It is not important to know what A.M. and P.M. stand for but knowing what they mean can help make telling time easier!

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