How To Tell The Time In Italian

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How To Tell The Time In Italian

Maybe you’re always comically late to your engagements, or perhaps you’ve never been anything but punctual. Regardless, it’s nearly impossible to get through your day without thinking about telling the time — and that goes for speakers of all languages. Telling time in Italian is an invaluable skill if you plan on visiting that famous boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean, whether you’re jetting off to the gelateria before closing time or trying not to miss your train to Milan for Fashion Week.

Keep reading to learn all the essential elements of telling time in Italian. With a little practice, you’ll be a master of time-telling in poco tempo!

Tricks For Telling Time In Italian

You’ll only need to know the numbers 1 through 59 and a few other words and expressions to tell time in Italian. It’s a real-world way to put your counting skills to good use!

Let’s start out simple. You can express the hour of day (that is, “It is ___ o’clock”) by using the numbers up to 24 and the words essere, the verb that means “to be.” In most cases, you’ll use essere conjugated in the third-person plural form sono, or “(they) are,” followed by the definite article le and the number of the hour.

  • Sono le tre. — “It is three (o’clock).” (3:00)
  • Sono le cinque. — “It is five (o’clock).” (5:00)
  • Sono le nove. — “It is nine (o’clock).” (9:00)

The only exceptions occur at one o’clock, noon and midnight, when you use essere conjugated in its third-person singular form è, or “(it) is,” instead.

  • È l’una. — “It is one (o’clock).” (1:00)
  • È mezzogiorno. — “It is noon.”
  • È mezzanotte. — “It is midnight.”

The idea is that you’re saying something like “(The hours) are three” or “(The hour) is one” without needing to explicitly state the subject. Italian lets a speaker drop the subject in certain constructions or when the context makes it clear, like with the time or with the weather; this can’t happen in English, which requires speakers to say things like “It is one o’clock” or “It is raining.”

To get more specific about the minutes value, all you’ve got to do is add the word e, (“and”) followed by the number of minutes (from 1 to 59) that have passed since the most recent whole hour. You can also use the following words that stand for chunks of time:

  • una mezz’ora — “a half of (an) hour”
  • un quarto d’ora — “a quarter of (an) hour”

Putting this little formula together, you can make sentences like these:

  • Sono le quattro e cinque. — “It is four and five (minutes).” (4:05.)
  • Sono le sette e un quarto. — “It is seven and a quarter,” or “It is a quarter past seven.” (7:15)
  • È l’una e mezzo. — “It is one and (a) half,” or “It is half past one.” (1:30)

Like in English, you can also talk about the time in Italian by counting backwards from an hour that’s upcoming. With the word meno, which in this context means “minus,” you can subtract a chunk of time from another, which you’d want to do especially when you’re closer to the whole hour in the future than to the one that’s already passed:

  • Sono le undici meno tre. — “It is eleven minus three (minutes),” or “It is three to eleven.” (10:57)
  • È l’una meno un quarto. — “It is one minus (a) quarter,” or “It is a quarter to one.” (12:45)

The 24-hour clock is much more popular in Europe than it is in the United States, and Italy is no exception. But many Italians will have no trouble understanding you if you use the 12-hour format, especially if you contextualize what time of day you really mean by adding these temporal expressions:

  • di mattina — “in the morning”
  • del pomeriggio — “in the afternoon”
  • di sera — “in the evening”
  • di notte — “at night”

So, the following sentences are two ways of expressing the same times:

  • Sono le diciotto. (18:00)
  • Sono le sei di sera. (6:00 p.m.)
  • Sono le tredici. (13:00)
  • È l’una del pomeriggio. (1:00 p.m.)

And now you’ve got the hang of it! That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you’re ready for an authentic Italian adventure any time, anywhere!

More Phrases And Expressions You’ll Want To Know

  • l’ora “hour”
  • il minuto — “minute”
  • il secondo — “second”
  • l’orologio — “clock”
  • Quando (è)? — “When (is it)?”
  • Che ore sono? / Che ora è? — “What time is it?”
  • presto — “soon,” “early”
  • tardi — “late”
  • ora — “now”
  • subito — “right now,” “right away”
  • ieri — “yesterday”
  • oggi — “today”
  • domani — “tomorrow”
  • dopodomani — “day after tomorrow”
  • essere in tempo — “to be on time”
  • essere in ritardo — “to be late”
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David Doochin
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.
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