Telling the time in French

One important thing to note when talking about the time is that the French make greater use of the 24 hour clock than we typically do. You'll frequently encounter it in more formal situations (for instance, when making appointments) and also when clarifying whether a time is in the morning or in the evening.

In casual conversation where it's pretty obvious whether you're talking about day or night (for instance, when you're talking about going for dinner at eight'o'clock) it's more common to use the 12-hour clock.

In writing, you'll never see times written as 5pm or 3am. It will always be written 17h30 (5.30pm) or 22h (10pm).

To say the time, use il est followed by a number and then heure(s)

For instance:

  • it's three'o'clock = il est trois heures
  • it's one'o'clock = il est une heure

To say something like ten to eleven or quarter to five you should use moins (minus/less)

  • it's ten to eleven = il est onze heures moins dix (It is eleven hours minus ten)
  • it's a quarter to five = il est cinq heures moins le quart (It is five hours minus quarter)

To say something like it's ten PAST eleven simply put the number of minutes after the hour.

  • It's ten past eleven: il est onze heures dix

Add an et when saying quarter past or half past

  • Quarter past one: Une heure et quart
  • Half past nine: Neuf heures et demie

More "time" vocabulary:

  • midnight: minuit
  • midday/noon: midi
  • Ten'o'clock at night: dix heures du soir
  • Ten'o'clock in the morning: dix heures du matin
  • Ten'o'clock, on the dot!: dix heures, pile!