Lesson: Telling Time in French


Understanding how to tell time in French involves knowing two systems: the official time used for precise schedules like trains and broadcasts, and common time based on the 12-hour clock. Let’s explore how to express time accurately and transition between these two systems.

Official Time (L’heure officielle)

The official time is expressed in a 24-hour format, providing exact hours and minutes.


  • 23h50 is said as “vingt-trois heures cinquante.”
  • 16h30 is expressed as “seize heures trente.”

This format is straightforward, reading the numbers as they appear.

Common Time (L’heure courante)

Common time relies on a 12-hour clock, often rounding off to the nearest notable marker, such as quarters or half hours.


  • 23h50 is commonly said as “minuit moins dix” (ten minutes to midnight).
  • 16h30 translates to “quatre heures et demie” (four thirty).

Comparative Table: Official Time vs. Common Time

Official Time Common Time
une heure
une heure et quart
une heure et demie
deux heures moins vingt
deux heures moins le quart
deux heures

Minutes are often rounded to express common time more conveniently.

🍀 Activities 🍀

🔷 Exercise 1: Convert Official to Common Time

Convert the following official times to common time:

  1. 13h15
  2. 14h40
  3. 12h30
  4. 0h45
  5. 0h15
  6. 16h20
  1. 13h15 -> une heure et quart                 one fifteen PM
  2. 14h40 -> trois heures moins vingt      twenty minutes to three PM
  3. 15h35 -> quatre heures moins vingt-cinq   twenty-five minutes to four PM
  4. 12h30 -> midi et demie                             twelve thirty
  5. 0h45 -> une heure moins le quart        quarter to one AM
  6. 0h15 -> minuit et quart                             quarter past midnight
  7. 16h20 -> quatre heures vingt                  four twenty PM

🔷 Exercise 2: Read the Following Times in Official and Common Time

  • a. 8h45 -> huit heures quarante-cinq / neuf heures moins le quart.
  • b. 9h30 -> neuf heures trente / neuf heures et demie.
  • c. 10h20 -> dix heures vingt.
  • d. 11h15 -> onze heures quinze / une heure et quart.
  • e. 00h00 -> zéro heure ou minuit / minuit. f. 12h00 -> douze heures ou midi / midi.

Asking the Time

When you want to ask what the time is in French, you can say:

  • Il est quelle heure ?      What time is it?

This is a straightforward question that can be used in any casual or formal setting to inquire about the current time.

Telling the Time

To tell the time in response, the structure is quite simple. You start with “Il est…” followed by the hour and the minutes.


  • Il est une heure.                                  It’s one o’clock.
  • Il est deux heures.                             It’s two o’clock.
  • Il est trois heures cinq.                   It’s three o five.
  • Il est quatre heures et demie.      It’s four thirty.
  • Il est cinq heures quinze.               It’s five fifteen.
  • Il est six heures moins le quart.  It’s quarter to six.

Note that for midday and midnight, you can use:

  • Il est midi.      It’s noon.
  • Il est minuit.  It’s midnight.

Important Points:

  • Half past an hour is expressed as “et demie” (and a half).
  • Quarter past an hour is said as “et quart” (and a quarter).
  • Quarter to an hour can be expressed as “moins le quart” (minus a quarter).

Let’s Try ! Watch this video and take note. 

By mastering these two ways of telling time in French, you’ll be able to understand and share time more effectively, whether you’re catching a train or making plans with friends. Practice these exercises to get comfortable with both official and common expressions of time.

Time in French