English Telling Time


In this module, time expressions and how to tell time are presented.

Time is fleeting

Asking for the time and telling time are two different forms of talking about time. Here are a few possible questions to use when asking what time it is:

Normal Emphasis
What time is it?
What is the time?
Do you have the time?
Do you know what time it is?
Have you got the time?

More Polite
Do you happen to have the time?
Can you tell me what time it is?
Could you tell me the time, please?

To answer questions about time, choose from the following examples:

The time is 1 o’clock. (more formal)
It is (It’s) five thirty / 5:30.
3 pm. 
A quarter to 4.

Whenever the time is on the hour, use “o’clock” after the number. For example: It is now 12 o’clock. When talking about time with reference to the nearest hour, you can use a variety of expressions.

I have to leave at half past six. (6:30)
The show starts at a quarter after two. (2:15)
Wow! It’s ten after eleven and John still isn’t here! (11:10)
Beth left at five minutes past eight. (8:05)
It is four minutes to ten. (9:56)

“Till” can be used in place of “to”:

We are meeting them at ten till seven. (6:50).

Time of Day
Note that the time of day is not clear using the 12-hour clock in English. Absent the a.m./am/AM (morning) or p.m./pm/PM (afternoon/evening) marker, context and adverbs of time provide the missing information:

I will call you at nine tonight. (9 pm)
The concert begins at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.