Telling the time in French using 'être'

What’s the time?‎

To ask the time in French, say quelle heure est-il? Or, if you want to be less formal, say il ‎est quelle heure? ‎ To give the time, say il est (it is) and then say the time.‎

Telling the time: o’clock, quarter past, half past and quarter to

When it’s quarter past, half past and quarter to, use the following expressions:

et quartquarter past
et demiehalf past
moins le quartquarter to
Image of a clock face showing 3.00

Il est trois heures ‎- It’s three o’clock

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You can also say quinze (15), trente (30) and quarante-cinq (45) for these times using the ‎‎24-hour system:‎

  • Il est trois heures quinze - it’s 3:15‎.
  • Il est trois heures trente - it’s 3:30‎.
  • Il est trois heures quarante-cinq - it’s 3:45‎.

Telling the time: five, ten, twenty and twenty-five past and to

For all other times from five past until half past, you say the hour followed by the number ‎of minutes past the hour:‎

Image of a clock face showing 3.05

Il est trois heures cinq ‎- It’s five past three

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For the times between twenty-five to and five to, you need to say the next hour minus ‎the number of minutes. For example, if you want to say ‘it’s five to four’, you need to say ‎‎‘it’s four o’clock minus five’:‎

Image of a clock face showing 3.35

Il est quatre heures moins vingt-‎cinq - It’s twenty-five to four

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You can also say ‘it’s three fifty-five’ and so on using the 24-hour system:‎

  • Il est trois heures trente-cinq - it’s 3:35‎.
  • Il est trois heures quarante - it’s 3:40.
  • Il est trois heures cinquante - it’s 3:50‎.
  • Il est trois heures cinquante-cinq - it’s 3:55.

Numbers in fives

  • 5‎ - cinq
  • 10‎ - dix
  • 15 - quinze
  • 20‎ - vingt
  • 25‎ - vingt-cinq
  • 30‎ - trente
  • 35 - trente-cinq
  • ‎40 - quarante
  • ‎45 - quarante-cinq
  • ‎50‎ - cinquante
  • ‎55‎ - cinquante-cinq

The 24-hour clock

The 24-hour clock is used a lot in French. With the 24-hour clock, you usually say quinze ‎‎(15), trente (30) and quarante-cinq (45) instead of et quart (quarter past), et demie (half ‎past) and moins le quart (quarter to):‎

  • Il est vingt heures trente - it’s 20:30 (8:30 pm)‎.
  • Il est dix-huit heures quinze - it’s 18:15 (6:15 pm)‎.
  • Il est quatorze heures quarante-cinq - it’s 14:45 (2:45 pm)‎.

Saying what time something happens

To say what time something happens, you need to use à (at), and use de … à to say ‘from ‎‎… until’:‎

  • Je prends le petit déjeuner à sept heures et quart - I eat breakfast at 7:15.‎
  • La pause déjeuner est à douze heures et demie - Lunch break is at 12:30.‎
  • Mon beau-père dîne de dix-huit heures à dix-neuf heures - My stepfather eats ‎dinner from 18:00-19:00.‎

Talking about your daily routine

To say what time you do certain things during the day, you can use daily routine phrases ‎with the time: ‎

  • Je me lève à sept heures et je prends mon petit déjeuner à sept heures et quart - I ‎get up at 7:00 and I have breakfast at 7:15.
  • Je vais au collège à huit heures et demie et la récré est à onze heures dix - I go to ‎school at 8:30 and break is at 11:10.
  • Je joue au foot avec mes copains à treize heures quarante - I play football with my ‎friends at 13:40.‎

For more phrases on daily routine, click on downloadable vocabulary list below:

Daily routine phrases


Watch the video and find out how much you know about telling the time in French in this short quiz.

Where next?

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