About Time: How to Tell and Ask For the Time in English

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Have you ever gone out alone, only to discover that you left your watch behind or your phone has run out of battery? You’re then faced with a dilemma: either attempt to ask a complete stranger for the time (oh, no!) or spend the day anxiously hoping you’ll make it to your next meeting on time.

Today, we’re going to discuss the essential aspects of telling and asking for the time in English so that you can confidently inquire about the time if you ever accidentally leave your watch or phone at home! Additionally, we’ll explore how to respond when someone else asks you for the time. This practical skill is valuable in various everyday situations, so let’s get started.

Understanding Clocks: Analogue and Digital

First, let’s cover the two main types of clocks you’ll encounter.

  • Analogue clocks: These are the traditional ones with hour, minute, and sometimes second hands.
  • Digital clocks: These display time in numbers, typically in either a 12-hour format with AM and PM or a 24-hour format.

 

Telling the Time: Essential Phrases

Here’s how you can express time effectively:

  • “It’s one/two/four/nine o’clock” when the minute hand is on 12 and the hour hand is pointing at 1/2/4/9.
 
  •  Use “past” and “to” to describe minutes past or before the hour.
 

“It’s ten past four (4:10).”

“It’s a quarter to ten (9:45).”

“It’s half past three (3:30).”

“It’s twenty to eleven (10:40).”

 

  • In some countries like Malaysia, a simpler approach is preferred. 
 

“It’s one twenty-five (1:25).”

“It’s three thirty (3:30).”

“It’s twelve forty-two (12:42).”

 

  • In military and medical contexts, the 24-hour format is used. Here are some examples of how to express times in this format:
 

“Fifteen hundred hours” is 3:00 PM in the 12-hour format.

“Zero eight thirty hours” is 8:30 AM in the 12-hour format.

“Twenty hundred fifteen hours” is 8:15 PM in the 12-hour format.

 

Using “It Is” and “At” to Convey Time:

To express the current time, use “it’s” or “it is” followed by the time, such as, “It’s four forty-six.”

“At” is used when specifying the time for an event. For example, “The meeting is at four o’clock.”

 

AM and PM

These are abbreviations to differentiate between morning and afternoon/evening hours.

  • “AM” stands for “before noon” (midnight to 11:59 AM).
  • “PM” stands for “afternoon/evening” (noon to 11:59 PM).

 

You can also specify “in the morning”, “in the evening” or “at night” to avoid confusion.

I’ll see you at 11 in the morning for brunch.”

“Let’s go to the park at 5 in the evening.”

“By 8 at night, the city’s streets become quieter, with most shops closing their doors as the day winds down.”

 

Parts of the Day

The division of time into morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night can vary somewhat depending on cultural and regional differences, but here’s a general guideline:

  • Morning: Approximately 6 AM to 11:59 AM.
  • Noon: Specifically 12:00 PM.
  • Afternoon: About 1 PM to 5:59 PM.
  • Evening: Starts around 6 PM and varies by region.
  • Night: Begins around 9 PM or 10 PM until sunrise.

 

As I mentioned above, these times can vary depending on cultural and regional differences, so in countries like Malaysia, for example, evening may start at around 4 PM. 

 

Asking for the Time

When you need to know the time:

“What time is it?”

“Do you have the time?”

“Do you know what time it is?”

 

For formal or unfamiliar situations, you can be more polite.

“Excuse me, do you have the time?”

“Could you please tell me the time?”

Sorry to bother you, but do you know what time it is?”

 

Mastering the art of telling and asking for the time is a practical and useful skill. Whether it’s for coordinating your schedule or engaging in friendly conversations, being comfortable with these time-related expressions will serve you well.

Until next time!

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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