This week we’re going to cover the basic expressions used to tell time in Spanish. While telling time in Spanish is not a terribly difficult concept, the expressions used are more similar to older English time expressions than the ones that most American English speakers use today.
Expressing the Hour
When referring to “one o’clock,” use the singular verb es. When referring to any other hour, use the plural son:
Es la una.
It’s one o’clock.
Son las tres.
It’s three o’clock.
Note the use of the feminine la/las article. Expressions of time take the feminine article because hora, the Spanish word for “hour,” is feminine.
It is customary to express minutes in the first half hour by adding to the hour with the word y (and). While this custom exists in English, (15 minutes after 5, 20 after 3, etc.) it is used less often than its Spanish counterpart:
Es la una y cuatro.
It’s four minutes past one. (1:04)
Son las dos y doce
It’s twelve minutes past two. (2:12)
Minutes past the half hour mark are expressed by subtracting from the upcoming hour with menos. Again, this custom exists in English, but is less frequently used:
Es la una menos cuatro.
It’s four minutes until one. (12:56)
Son las dos menos doce
It’s twelve minutes until two. (1:48)
A quarter past and half past the hour are expressed with cuarto and media, respectively:
Es la una y cuarto.
It’s a quarter past one. (1:15)
Son las dos y media.
It’s half past two. (2:30)
Son las tres menos cuarto.
It’s a quarter until three. (2:45)
A.M. and P.M.
Add the following expressions to indicate the time of day:
Son las cinco de la mañana.
It’s five in the morning.
Es la una de la tarde.
It’s one in the afternoon.
Son las diez de la noche.
It’s ten in the evening.
To say that it is morning, afternoon, or evening without mentioning a specific time, use por la mañana, por la tarde, and por la noche, respectively.