Telling the time in French - simple

In this lesson, we will focus on how to express 12-hour clock times, and how to say half past, quarter to/past, ...

Look at these examples:

Quelle heure est-il ?
What time is it?

Quelle heure il est ?
What time is it?

Il est dix heures.
It is ten o'clock.

Il est cinq heures.
It is five o'clock.

Il est une heure.
It is one o'clock.


Note that to say it is + [time], you use Il est + [heure] (NEVER c'est).

You also always need heure(s) after the number, except for midnight and noon:

Il est minuit.
It is midnight.

Il est midi.
It is noon.

 

Half past [hour] = [heure] et demie

Il est six heures et demie.
It is half past six.

Il est trois heures et demie.
It is half past three.

To express half past, you add et demie after number [heure(s)], EXCEPT for minuit and midi:

Il est minuit et demi.
It is half past midnight.

Il est midi et demi.
It is half past noon.

 

Quarter past / quarter to [hour] = [heure] et quart / moins le quart

Il est sept heures et quart.
It is quarter past seven.

Il est minuit et quart.
It is quarter past midnight.

Il est cinq heures moins le quart.
It is quarter to five.

Il est midi moins le quart.
It is quarter to twelve. (noon)

To express quarter past and quarter to, you add et quart (past) or moins le quart (literally minus the quarter) after number [heure(s)].  

 

[minutes] past [hour] = [heure] [minutes]

Il est trois heures vingt.
It is twenty past three.

Il est onze heures cinq.
It is five past eleven.

Il est neuf heures vingt-cinq.
It is twenty-five past nine.

To express [minutes] *past* [hour], you simply add the number of minutes (cinq, dix,...) AFTER number [heure(s)].  


[minutes] to [hour] = [heure] moins [minutes]

Il est huit heures moins dix.
It is ten to eight.

Il est sept heures moins cinq.
It is five to seven.

Il est une heure moins vingt-cinq.
It is twenty-five to one.

To express [minutes] *to* [hour], you simply add  moins + [number of minutes] (Literally minus five, minus ten...) AFTER number [heure(s)]

See also the more advanced lesson on how to use the 24-hour clock and differentiate between AM and PM in French:  

Telling the time in French - AM vs PM

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources


Quelle heure est-il ?
What time is it?


Il est sept heures moins cinq.
It is five to seven.


Il est huit heures moins dix.
It is ten to eight.


Il est sept heures et quart.
It is quarter past seven.


Il est midi et demi.
It is half past noon.


Il est trois heures et demie.
It is half past three.


Il est minuit et quart.
It is quarter past midnight.


Il est une heure moins vingt-cinq.
It is twenty-five to one.


Il est dix heures.
It is ten o'clock.


Il est trois heures vingt.
It is twenty past three.


Quelle heure il est ?
What time is it?


Il est une heure.
It is one o'clock.


Il est minuit et demi.
It is half past midnight.


Il est minuit.
It is midnight.


Il est midi moins le quart.
It is quarter to twelve. (noon)


Il est onze heures cinq.
It is five past eleven.


Il est cinq heures moins le quart.
It is quarter to five.


Il est six heures et demie.
It is half past six.


Il est midi.
It is noon.


Il est neuf heures vingt-cinq.
It is twenty-five past nine.


Il est cinq heures.
It is five o'clock.


Q&A Forum 8 questions, 17 answers

DrewC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

24-Hr Clock

"It is twenty-five past nine." The answer: Il est neuf heures vingt-cinq. But why isn't "Il est vingt et un heures vingt-cinq" a valid answer?

Asked 9 months ago
CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Drew,

Could it be because it would be -

Vingt et une heures vingt-cinq ?

DrewC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Merci!

24-Hr Clock

"It is twenty-five past nine." The answer: Il est neuf heures vingt-cinq. But why isn't "Il est vingt et un heures vingt-cinq" a valid answer?

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RoyA1Kwiziq community member

Normally today we use "eight forty" as an example, is "huit quarante" acceptible, or "huit heure quarante"?

Asked 11 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer
Never heard "huit quarante", only "huit heures quarante".

Normally today we use "eight forty" as an example, is "huit quarante" acceptible, or "huit heure quarante"?

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FionaA2Kwiziq community member

why is a quarter to "moins le quart," but "moins quart," is not allowed?

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Hi Fiona,

there's no justification except "that's just the way it is".

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

TimothyA1Kwiziq community member

The way to think of it is moins le quart literally means minus the quarter.

Example:

Il est cinq heures moins le quart. Think of this as ... It is five o'clock minus the quarter which would make it 4:45.

Fiona asked:View original

why is a quarter to "moins le quart," but "moins quart," is not allowed?

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Tom RuneC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Demi/demie

Is there a reason it should be "et demie" and not "et demi"? The former is the feminine and the latter the masculine form, right?
Asked 1 year ago
JimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributorCorrect answer

L'heure is a grammatically feminine noun, therefore, the adjective has to match the noun and is the feminine form demie.

Une demie-heure (30 minutes)
Une heure et demie [heure] (1h30)

Hope that helps.

Jim

Demi/demie

Is there a reason it should be "et demie" and not "et demi"? The former is the feminine and the latter the masculine form, right?

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ReneB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Just a comment.

My French penpal drilled into my head "et demie", deux heures et demie, onze heures et demie, but she never told me about "midi/minuit et demi", which I learned here. :-)
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Rene,

 

Thank you for your lovely comment, will pass on ...

RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Like you, I continue to learn new grammatical phrasing on this site. That is the main reason that I find it excellent. I have been studying French language and culture for a number of years and I continue to learn something new from nearly every resource that I study. This is one of the best I have found. Félicitations et bonne continuation ! Ron

Just a comment.

My French penpal drilled into my head "et demie", deux heures et demie, onze heures et demie, but she never told me about "midi/minuit et demi", which I learned here. :-)

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TonyB2Kwiziq community member

Hello,

On one of my quizzes, I was asked how to say 25 min before midnight. I answered vingt trois heures vingt cinq. It was wrong, but I don't understand why even after reading over the lesson again, and looking on the internet. Could someone please help clarify this for me? Thanks, Tony
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Bonsoir Tony, Firstly, 25 minutes before midnight would be 11:35 PM or in French: vingt trois heures trent-cinq or minuit moins ving-cinq Bonne chance
TonyB2Kwiziq community member
Oops, thanks for that-I guess I got confused with the times, I suppose I need to work on my french numbers. Tony
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
In all probability, you were thinking in English, not in French. It is like, an analogy if you will, playing soccer (le foot) and thinking about American football. It just doesn't quite work correctly. You will know that you are beginning to make progress when you catch yourself thinking in French. I had one prof who told me that i would begin dreaming at night in French; however, I haven't reached that stage yet. ;o) J'espère que ma réponse vous aiderait. Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études en français, la langue de Molière et qui a été utilisé par le monde depuis l’époque d’Hugues Capet

Hello,

On one of my quizzes, I was asked how to say 25 min before midnight. I answered vingt trois heures vingt cinq. It was wrong, but I don't understand why even after reading over the lesson again, and looking on the internet. Could someone please help clarify this for me? Thanks, Tony

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MichaelA2Kwiziq community member

Alternate Way of 'Half Past the Hour

Is it acceptable to alternatively say 'il est cinq heures et trente' as well as '...et demie/demi'? I ask because I noticed the structure for expressing time is identical to Italian, where one can use '...e trenta' as well as '...e mezzo' for expressing half past the hour.

Asked 3 years ago
CherylC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Bonjour Michael, I recently saw this lesson on kwizik. Yes, apparently, you can use either expression for the half hour, but it's more 'elegant' to use only 'trente' after mid-day! Up until mid-day, it's ok to use either expression. Cheryl
MichaelA2Kwiziq community member
Hello Cheryl. Thank you very much for taking a moment to answer my question. As well, thank you for the extra bit about when to use them... I had no idea!! Bonne journée. Michael
CherylC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
De rien! I remember the rule about using trente & also quinze instead of et demi & et quart after mid-day, by thinking about the film The Gremlins: "don't feed them or get them wet after midnight!". ..et demi & et quart are the Gremlins: don't use them after mid-day. Cheryl
AurélieKwiziq team member
Just a little precision to Cheryl's very informative comments ;) When you use "trente" or "quinze", you don't need the "et" : Il est quinze heures trente. / Il est trois heures et demie. Il est treize heures quinze. / Il est une heure et quart.

Alternate Way of 'Half Past the Hour

Is it acceptable to alternatively say 'il est cinq heures et trente' as well as '...et demie/demi'? I ask because I noticed the structure for expressing time is identical to Italian, where one can use '...e trenta' as well as '...e mezzo' for expressing half past the hour.

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CatherineB2Kwiziq community member

How to tell the time in French

Where it says treize heures moins cinq, just above Jargon Busters, should that translate as 2:55 rather than 0:55?
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Catherine ! Indeed, "treize heures moins cinq" actually means "12:55", so thanks for pointing it out to us! We actually changed to "vingt heures moins cinq" to highlight the difference between 7:55 and 19:55 ! Merci!
AurélieKwiziq team member
Following your post, I decided to completely upgrade this lesson, to make it even clearer!!! Have a look there: https://www.french-test.com/revision/grammar/how-to-tell-the-time-in-french-simple

How to tell the time in French

Where it says treize heures moins cinq, just above Jargon Busters, should that translate as 2:55 rather than 0:55?

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