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Time in French: A complete guide to telling the time

Everything there is to know about how to tell the time in French

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Knowing how to ask for the time and tell the time are essential in everyday life and a key topic when learning French. Whether you need to know when to meet a friend or when to arrive for a job interview, arriving on time is important.

But before learning how to ask for the time, you’ll need to be familiar with the French numbers from 0 to 60. If you don’t already know numbers or if you just want a quick recap, you can always check our guide to numbers in French.

Now that you have the numbers ready, you are almost there!

*It's worth noting that this page's content focuses on the French spoken in France. You may come across slight variations depending on other French-speaking countries of the world.

How to ask the time in French

Let’s start with the casual way of asking the time that works in most situations. You can use this mode to communicate with friends, family, or someone that you already know.

Il est quelle heure ? - What time is it? Est-ce que tu as l’heure ? - Do you know the time?

If you want to be more polite and respectful to the other person, or if you’re speaking with a stranger, then you can use these more formal phrases:

Est-ce que vous avez l’heure, s’il vous plaît ? — Do you have the time, please? Auriez-vous l’heure, s’il vous plaît ? - Would you please have the time? Quelle heure est-il, s'il vous plait? — What is the time, please?

And if you’re just casually asking a close friend for time, you can ask them

T’as l’heure ? - What’s the time?

You’ll be able to understand the time for sure if they show you on their watch, but if they read it out, you’ll need more vocab. Let's go the extra mile and learn how to tell the time.

How to tell the time in French

In French, time is based on the 24-hour clock, whereas in English, the 12-hour clock is used more frequently. The simplest and the most common way to tell the time in French is "il est" + Time (hours + minutes).

We measure time mainly with seconds, minutes, and hours:

Une heure/ les heures - hour/ hours Une minute/ les minutes - minute / minutes Une seconde/ les secondes - second / seconds

Let’s start with the hours in French (24-hour clock)

  • It’s one o’clock. – Il est une heure.
  • It’s two o'clock. – Il est deux heures.
  • It’s three o’clock. – Il est trois heures.
  • It’s four o’clock.– Il est quatre heures.
  • It’s five o’clock. – Il est cinq heures.
  • It’s six o’clock. – Il est six heures.
  • It’s seven o’clock. – Il est sept heures.
  • It’s eight o’clock. – Il est huit heures.
  • It’s nine o’clock. – Il est neuf heures.
  • It’s ten o’clock. – Il est dix heures.
  • It’s eleven o’clock. – Il est onze heures.
  • It’s twelve o’clock. – Il est douze heures/ il est midi.

Now the afternoon hours:

  • It’s one o’clock. – Il est treize heures.
  • It’s two o'clock. – Il est quatorze heures.
  • It’s three o’clock. – Il est quinze heures.
  • It’s four o’clock.– Il est seize heures.
  • It’s five o’clock. – Il est dix-sept heures.
  • It’s six o’clock. – Il est dix-huit heures.
  • It’s seven o’clock. – Il est dix-neuf heures.
  • It’s eight o’clock. – Il est vingt heures.
  • It’s nine o’clock. – Il est vingt et une heures.
  • It’s ten o’clock. – Il est vingt-deux heures.
  • It’s eleven o’clock. – Il est vingt-trois heures.
  • It’s twelve o’clock. – Il est minuit.

Now, to add the minutes (24-hour clock)

It is very easy to add in the minutes to the time, just mention the number of minutes after the hour.

For example:

  • Il est 2 heures et cinquante-cinq minutes - It’s 2:55am
  • Il est dix-sept heures et quinze minutes - it’s 5:15pm
  • Il est neuf heures trente means it’s 9:30am

Time to learn more French?

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The time in French (12-hour clock)

When discussing time in French with the 12-hour clock, it’s similar to how you’d use the 24-hour clock, but you have to indicate clearly if you are referring to before noon or afternoon. In English, we’d use am or pm as indicators, but French uses this much less.

Here is some vocabulary that’ll help you indicate time of the day:

  • In the morning - du matin

  • In the afternoon - de l’après-midi

  • In the evening - du soir

  • Noon (12pm) - midi

  • Midnight (12pm) - minuit.

The fractions of time

There are ways to express time as fractions in French, such as saying, “It’s half past five.” Always remember to only use this with the 12-hour clock.

For 15 minutes past the hour — et quart E.g: Il est deux heures et quart – It’s a quarter past 2 (2:15pm)

For 30 minutes past the hour — et demie E.g: Il est 5 heures et demie – It’s half past five (5:30am)

For 15 minutes before the hour — moins le quart E.g: Il est une heure moins le quart – It is a quarter until 1 (12:45am)

Some bonus tips to help you learn the time in French

  • Using the 12-hour or 24-hour clock is entirely optional. However, the 24-hour clock is more straightforward and more commonly used across France and other European countries.

  • Fractions of time are only used with the 12-hour clock format.

  • Practice listening to the pronunciation of deux heures and douze heures. These are extremely similar, so you don’t want to confuse the two.

  • “Time” has different translations in French depending upon the context:

Time = hours of the day is - l’heure.

Time = duration is - le temps.

E.g: Depuis combien de temps apprenez-vous le français? — How long have you been studying French?

Time = frequency, i.e., the number of times - la fois

E.g: Combien de fois avez-vous visité la France ? — How many times have you visited France?

  • To remember the date and time in French, you can set your phone language to French.

Learn how to tell time and other French essentials with Busuu

Learning to tell the time is just one of the essential skills that French learners can learn with Busuu. Our online French courses teaches you simple, everyday language you’ll actually use.