How To Tell Time In English: An Instructive Guide

Learning to tell time in English helps with talking to people worldwide, getting things done, and meeting up with friends. It can be tricky to understand the difference between the 12-hour clock, which uses AM and PM, and the 24-hour clock, more common in other places. This information benefits work and hanging out, where knowing the exact time matters.

Basics of Telling Time in English

Hour and minute format

In English, we tell time by saying the hour first and then the minutes. It’s a simple way everyone uses, so we all understand each other clearly.

For example, if it’s 3:20, you say, ‘Three twenty.’ You start with the hour, which is between one and twelve, and then add the minutes since the hour began. If there are less than ten minutes, add a zero before the number. So, 3:05 is said, ‘Three oh five.’

AM and PM

In the 12-hour clock system, we use ‘AM’ and ‘PM’ to tell morning from night. ‘AM means the time from midnight to noon when most of us do our morning routines. On the other hand, ‘PM’ is from noon to midnight, covering the afternoon and evening. Using AM and PM correctly is essential, especially when planning meetings or trips. This way, everyone knows exactly when things will happen, and there’s no mix-up with the time.

Common phrases for asking and telling time

Basics of Telling Time in English

People often ask for the time by saying, ‘What time is it?’ or ‘Could you tell me the time, please?’ These questions are clear and polite. When you answer, you just look at your watch or a clock and say the time like, ‘It’s three twenty.’ In formal situations, you might add ‘AM’ or ‘PM’ to make sure it’s clear whether it’s morning or evening. You can also use phrases like ‘half past,’ ‘quarter to,’ and ‘quarter past’ to make it sound more casual.

Advanced Techniques for Telling Time

Expressing time using general references

Using general time references like ‘early morning’ or ‘late evening’ makes conversations more flexible. You don’t have to pin down the exact time. Instead, you can say something like ‘around midnight’ to give a rough idea. This way of talking is excellent for casual chats or when a specific time isn’t crucial. For instance, if you say, ‘We’ll meet in the early afternoon,’ everyone gets the gist without needing an exact time.

Time adverbs

Time adverbs are essential in English. They help us talk about when things happen without giving a specific time. For example, words like ‘recently,’ ‘soon,’ or ‘later’ tell us about the timing of an action in a simple way.

Let’s say you use ‘recently.’ It means something happened not long ago. Or if you say ‘eventually,’ you’re talking about something that will happen, but you’re unsure when. Knowing these words helps us clarify our points, whether writing or speaking.


To wrap things up, learning to tell time in English is vital. It helps you stay organised and communicate well. Knowing about hours, minutes, and whether it’s AM or PM avoids confusion and keeps you on time. As we’ve seen, understanding time helps with planning and makes daily interactions smoother. Keep practising, and you’ll find it easier to discuss time and make plans confidently.

About the author
Winston Simon
Winston Simon, the founder of the Translation Blog, holds a Bachelor of Science (BS) from Auburn University. Fluent in multiple languages, including Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, and Japanese, Winston has had a lifelong passion for learning languages from around the globe

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