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How To Tell The Time In French

There are few things more important to know about (and few things more fun to say) than l’heure du jour.
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How To Tell The Time In French

You’re dreaming of your perfect Parisian vacation, complete with baguettes, poodles and berets. It’s almost time for you to embark on what you hope will be a bon voyage, having learned the words to talk about French transportation, food and drink and even the weather. But in your flurry of preparations, did you take time to teach yourself the basics of, well, telling time in French? No matter where you go, no holiday is complete without this important skill.

Telling time in French will come in handy in all sorts of contexts, like if you’re scheduling a boat tour of the Seine, trying to make it to the Louvre before closing time or meeting up with a friend for a glass of wine and some succulent escargot (okay, maybe skip that one if you’re not feeling culinarily adventurous).

Read on to learn about how to tell time in French.

Telling Time In French

To be a master of telling time in French, you’ll need to know how to use numbers, of course — so check out our guide to how to count to 100 in French if you need a refresher.

You’ll also need the word heure, which is the French equivalent of the English “o’clock.” In English, speakers can drop the “o’clock” from the end of the expression to say things like “It is eight.” But in French the heure is necessary and can’t be abandoned. Note that because heure is a noun, it has a singular form (heure) that’s used with une (“one”) to express “one o’clock.” For all other hours of the day, use the plural form heures.

  • une heure — one o’clock
  • deux heures — two o’clock
  • onze heures — eleven o’clock

You’ll use these terms after the phrase il est, which is an impersonal expression that translates to the English “it is,” like what you’d find in the sentence “It is five o’clock.” French works similarly in that you say il est followed by the number of the time and the word heure(s).

  • Il est une heure. — It is one o’clock.
  • Il est trois heures. — It is three o’clock.
  • Il est dix heures. — It is ten o’clock.

To talk about minute values is pretty simple. All you have to do is say the minute value after the words heure(s) if there is one.

  • Il est une heure dix. — It is one ten. (lit. “It is one o’clock ten.”) (1:10)
  • Il est cinq heures cinquante-sept. — It is five fifty-seven. (lit. “It is five o’clock fifty-seven.”) (5:57)
  • Il est douze heures quarante. — It is twelve forty. (lit. “It is twelve o’clock forty.”) (12:40)

Or, just like in English, you can use time-chunk words like quart (a quarter of an hour, or 15 minutes) and demie (half of an hour, or 30 minutes) with the words et (“and”) and moins (“minus,” in this context) to get a bit more creative.

  • Il est deux heures et quart. — It is two fifteen. (lit. “It is two o’clock and a quarter.”) (2:15)
  • Il est sept heures moins le quart.  — It is six forty-five. (lit. “It is seven o’clock minus a quarter.”) (6:45)
  • Il est neuf heures et demie. — It is nine thirty. (lit. “It is nice o’clock and half an hour.”) (9:30)

Keep in mind that like in many parts of Europe, time is usually expressed with the 24-hour clock instead of the 12-hour one that’s common in the United States. So, saying dix-neuf heures means 19:00, or 7:00pm. You can also use certain special time-marked phrases if you want to be more specific about the time of day and say things like Il est huit heures du soir (“It is eight in the evening”), Il est quatre heures et quart de l’après-midi (“It’s a quarter past four in the afternoon”) or Il est deux heures dix du matin (“It is two ten in the morning”).

There’s a special notation for writing the time in shorthand, too. Whereas in English we use a colon to separate the hours from the minutes, in French you’d want to use an h, short for heure(s):

  • 1h00 — 1:00
  • 2h30 — 2:30
  • 15h45 — 15:45 (or 3:45pm)

If you’ve learned all that, congratulations! Now you’re ready to impress French speakers with your time-telling skills.

Other Expressions For Telling Time In French

Check out these other phrases for telling time in French that are the perfect addition to your new time-telling linguistic lexicon.

  • Quelle heure est-il? — What time is it?
  • l’heure — hour
  • la minute — minute
  • la seconde — second
  • midi — noon (you don’t need to say heures after this word)
  • minuit — midnight (you don’t need to say heures after this word, either)
  • du matin — in the morning
  • de l’après-midi — in the afternoon/midday
  • du soir — in the evening
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