Telling time

      1. Excusez-moi, quelle heure est-il?

Now that you know some basic numbers 1-20, we can start using them for telling time!

A few things about telling time in French:

1) The French generally use a 24 hour clock. Anyone who has ever had family in the military probably knows what I’m talking about here. Instead of saying 5 PM, for instance, in a 24 hour clock system, you would say 1700 hours. (12 + 5 = 17). 7 PM would become 1900 hours (12 + 7 = 19). 2 PM would become 1400 hours (12 + 2 = 14). 11 PM would become 2300 hours (12 + 11 = 23). And so on and so forth.

2) Last but not least, it’s easier to do than you think! 🙂


When telling time in English, we often use the word “o’clock” when it’s right on the hour:

It is five o’clock

It is ten o’clock


When it’s not right on the hour, time is usually written like this:

It is four fifteen / It is 4:15

It is six thirty / It is 6:30


Telling time in French is a little bit different. It consists of four major parts:

Il est + # + heures + # of mins (if applicable)


Telling time on the hour

For right on the hour, you would follow this example:


Il est quinze heures = It is 3:00 PM (or 15:00)

Il est vingt heures = It is 8 PM (or 20:00)

Il est huit heures = It is 8 AM


For minutes past the hour, you follow the example above but add the minute of the hour after “heures”:


Il est cinq heures cinq = It is 5:05 AM

Il est sept heures dix = It is 7:10 AM

Il est huit heures vingt = It is 8:20 AM


Click on the French sentence below to hear it spoken:

      2. Il est dix heures
 = It is 10:00 AM

      3. Il est neuf heures six
 = It is 9:06 AM

      4. Il est quatorze heures vingt
 = It is 2:20 PM (or 14:20)


For noon and midnight, you say:

      5. Il est midi
 = It is noon

      6. Il est minuit
 = It is midnight


Telling time 15 and 30 minutes past the hour

For telling time 15 and 30 minutes past the hour, such as 3:15, 4:30, 7:15, and 11:30, you follow the formula above, but add either et quart for 15 minutes and et demie for 30 minutes.


Il est + # + heures + et demie or et quart


Quart probably looks a lot like the word “quarter,” doesn’t it? Since an hour consists of 60 minutes, 15 minutes is a quarter of that! (15 x 4 = 60) Hence le quart.

And demie, though Latin in origin, is a prefix used in English meaning “half; half-size.” It is used in such words as demitasse (a special kind of spoon) and demi-glace, a special kind of brown sauce used in French cuisine.


Il est dix-neuf heures et demie = It is 7:30 PM (or 19:30)

Il est vingt-et-une heure et quart = It is 9:15 PM (or 21:15)

Il est quinze heures et quart = It is 3:15 PM (or 15:15)

Il est une heure et demie = It is 1:30 AM


Click on the French sentence below to hear it spoken:

      7. Il est midi et demie
 = It is 12:30 PM

      8. Il est quatre heures et demie
 = It is 4:30 AM

      9. Il est quinze heures et quart
 = It is 3:15 PM


Telling time at 45 minutes past the hour

For telling time 15 minutes before the hour, you would subtract the number of minutes before the hour. You would go to the hour it will soon be, and subtract le quart. We do something like this in English when telling time. It’s just that we say it’s “to” or “til” the hour.


It is a quarter to 4, for example, means that it is 3:45, because there are fifteen minutes until the next hour, which is 4:00

It is a quarter til 7 means that it is 6:45, because there’s fifteen minutes (a quarter of an hour) until 7.


To express a time when it is a quarter to the next hour, you would use the words moins le quart. We already know that quart means quarter, but moins means “minus.”

      10. moins
 = minus

Il est + # + heures + moins le quart


For example, il est sept heures moins le quart literally means “it is seven hours minus a quarter.” Because a quarter of an hour is 15 minutes, the above sentence in French is saying that it is 6:45 AM.

Il est dix heures moins le quart = It is 9:45 (literally “it is 10 hours minus a quarter”)

Il est midi moins le quart = It is 11:45 (literally, “it is noon minus a quarter”)

Il est quinze heures moins le quart = It is 2:45 (literally, it is 15 hours [3 PM] minus a quarter”)


      11. Il est trois heures moins le quart
 = It is 2:45 AM


Note that moins can be used anytime you want to say that it’s x number of minutes until the hour.


Il est + # + heures + moins and the number of minutes


It is 5 minutes to 6. = Il est six heures moins cinq

It is 10 minutes to 9. = Il est neuf heures moins dix.

It is 23 minutes to noon. = Il est midi moins vingt-trois



Click on the French times below to here them spoken:

      12. Il est une heure
      13. Il est deux heures
      14. Il est trois heures
      15. Il est quatre heures
      16. Il est cinq heures
      17. Il est six heures
      18. Il est sept heures
      19. Il est huit heures
      20. Il est neuf heures
      21. Il est dix heures
      22. Il est onze heures
      23. Il est douze heures
      24. Il est treize heures
      25. Il est quatorze heures
      26. Il est quinze heures
      27. Il est seize heures
      28. Il est dix-sept heures
      29. Il est dix-huit heures
      30. Il est dix-neuf heures
      31. Il est vingt heures
      32. Il est vingt-et-une heures
      33. Il est vingt-deux heures
      34. Il est vingt-trois heures
      35. Il est vingt-quatre heures


To test your listening abilities for French time, visit the game below:

Learning time in French

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