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How to Ask and Give the Time in English (Formal and Informal) | Vocabulary and Expressions


    Knowing how to ask and tell the time is a fundamental skill in any language. In this article, we will focus on the vocabulary and expressions necessary to ask questions and provide information about the time in English. We will also delve into the ability to read the clock in English.

    5 Tips on How to Acquire the Skills of Telling Time

    1. Familiarize Yourself with the Various Components of a Clock.

    A clock usually has a bunch of bits and pieces working together to show the time. Here’s the lineup:

    Clock face or dial: This is the front of the clock with the numbers and cool symbols telling you what hour and minute it is.

    Hour hand: It is the shorter hand that shows which hour it is right now.

    Minute hand: It is the longer hand that points to the minutes.

    Seconds hand: It is a slim hand that zips around the clock, letting you know the seconds.

    2. Learn the Difference between Analog and Digital Clock

    One key difference between analog clock and digital clock is that analog clocks use rotating hands on a circular dial, while the digital clocks display time using electronic digits on the screen.

    3. Check the Hour

    Observe the shorter hand to figure out the hour. The shorter hand will be directed towards the number indicating the current hour. For example, if the shorter hand points at 5, it’s 5 o’clock.

    4. Check the Minutes

    Observe the longer hand to find out the minutes. The longer hand will be directed towards the number of minutes after the hour. For instance, if the longer hand points at 7, it is 7 minutes past the hour.

    5. Utilize Digital Clocks

    To enhance your skills in reading digital clocks, examine the digits showcased on the clock. The initial two digits signifies the hour, while the last two digits signifies the minutes. For instance, if the digital clock shows 04:30, it is 4:30 am or pm. Sometimes it can also show 4:30. It is still 4:30 am or pm. «Am» is used for morning while «pm» is used for afternoon and evenings.

    Different Ways to Say the Time

    Sometimes, figuring out how to say the time can be tricky because there are different types of clocks and ways to express the time. These are all the ways to tell the time. You can choose any of them depending on the type of clock you’re currently using.

    1. The 12-hour clock

     The usual way we tell time in English is with the 12-hour clock. It uses numbers from 1 to 12 for the hours and adds «am» or «pm». «Am» like I told you indicates morning while «pm» is for afternoons and evenings to indicate if it’s before or after noon. For instance, if it’s 3:30 pm, we say «It is three thirty in the afternoon».

    2. The 24-hour Clock

     Another way people tell time is with the 24-hour clock, which is also known as military time. This clock uses numbers from 0 to 23 for the hours and doesn’t use am or pm to tell us if it’s morning or afternoon/evening. For instance, if it’s 17:30, we just say «seventeen thirty».
    In English, we don’t need to bother with ‘am’ and ‘pm’ when using this kind of 24-hour clock. It is important to note that, after 12 noon, we don’t go back to 1,2, 3. With the 24-hour clock, after 12 noon, we go to 13,14, 15…
    13 indicates 1 o’clock in the 12-hour clock, 14 indicates 2 o’clock in the 12-hour and so on.

    3. Digital Clock Style

    Digital clocks show time using numbers and are commonly found on devices like phones and computers. They can show time in the 12-hour format or in the 24-hour format. For instance, if it’s 2:45 pm or 14:45, we’d say «two forty-five».

    Using «o’clock»

    When the time is right on the hour, we would say «o’clock». For instance, if the hour time is on 4, we’d say «It is four o’clock». Another example, if the time shows 5:00, we’d say «It is 5 o’clock».

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    Vocabulary for telling the time in English

    We use vocabularies such as «o’clock», «past» and «to» to tell time in English.

    For minutes after the hour but before the half-hour, just say «past» before the hour or read the full numbers.

    Examples with ‘past’:

    • «Four thirty-five» (4:35) – or «thirty-five past four»
    • «Two ten» (2:10) – or «ten past two»
    • «Six fifteen» (6:15) – or «fifteen past six»

    Examples with ‘to’:

    • «Forty to seven» (6:20) – or «six twenty»
    • «Fifteen to eight» (7:45) – or «seven forty-five»
    • «Fifty to nine» (8:10) – or «eight ten»

    How did I get these numbers? Remember that 60 minutes make one hour and since it’s eight ten, ten minutes is already past so just take 60-10 to get 50. So please, you need to know your addition and your subtraction also in telling the time.

    Now when talking about general time periods, we can use phrases that aren’t exact, for example we can use words like «about» or «around».

    For example:

    • «It will take about half an hour» / «I am talking about 30 minutes». -> Why? Because 60 minutes make 1 hour so, half of it is 30 minutes.
    • «I’ll meet you in about a quarter of an hour» / «I am talking ‘about 15 minutes.»
    • «It should be about an hour and a half» / «I’m talking ‘about 90 minutes». -> Why? An hour= 60 minutes, half an hour=30 minutes. 60+30=90 minutes.

    How to ask the time in English

    You can say:

    • «Can you tell me the time, please?»
    • «What time is it?»
    • «Excuse me, do you have the time?»
    • «Have you got the time?»
    • «Do you know the time?»

    All these expressions can be used to ask the time in English.

    Exercises on telling the TIME in English

    Convert the following times from the 12-hour to the 24-hour clock and write down the time in words.
    For example, 4:00 pm → 16:00 because 13 is 1 o’clock, 14 is 2 o’clock, 15 is 3 o’clock, 16 is 4 o’clock and so on. 4:00p.m is written as four o’clock p.m. that means it is in the afternoon.

    • 9:15 am
    • 7:30 am
    • 1:45 pm
    • 5:20 pm

    Please do not forget to leave your answers in the comment section below. If you want to continue studying, review the numbers in English!