This week we’re going to cover the basic expressions used to tell time in French. As with Spanish, saying what time it is in French is a relatively straightforward process. However, also like Spanish, French expressions of time include some conventions of telling time that are not commonly used in modern American English.
Expressing the Hour
When referring to the hour, use the word l’heure. This word is used to indicate a specific time. Do not use temps, which refers to the passage of time in a more general sense.
The verb est (is) is used in all expressions of time:
Il est une heure.
It’s one o’clock.
Il est trois heures.
It’s three o’clock.
Minutes are expressed by adding the appropriate number after l’heure:
Il est quatre heures dix.
You can express 15 minutes past the hour with et (and) + quart (quarter) or by just adding quinze (fifteen):
Il est cinq heures et quart.
It’s a quarter past 5.
Il est cinq heures quinze.
In the same way, you can use either demie (and a half) or trente (thirty) to express the half hour mark:
Il est cinq heures et demie.
It’s half past 5.
Il est cinq heures trente.
Minutes passed the half hour mark can be expressed in terms of moins (until) or by writing out the entire number. You can also use quart to indicate 15 minutes until the hour.
For example, 5:45 can be expressed three different ways:
Il est six heures moins le quart.
It’s a quarter to 6.
Il est six heures moins quinze.
It’s 15 minutes until 6.
Il est cinq heures quarante-cinq.
Expressing the Time of Day
French does not have words for “a.m.” or “p.m.” Instead, you can use du matin for times from midnight to noon, l’après-midi for noon to 6 p.m., and du soir for 6 p.m. until midnight. However, it’s customary to express the time of day in terms of a 24 hour clock:
Il est cinq heures l’après-midi.
It’s 5 p. m.
Il est dix-sept heures.
Midnight and Noon
As in English, midnight and noon have their own unique time words in French:
Il est minuit.
Il est midi.