French Telling Time


Knowing how to tell time in French is essential for traveling, meeting up with friends, making appointments, and getting to work or school on time. Telling time in French is just a matter of knowing the French numbers and a few formulas and rules.

Time is fleeting

To tell time in French, you should first review how to say and write numbers 1-24. This is because the 24-hour clock tells time in the French language. This is also what we know as “military time.” Look at the following chart to review useful words that are often expressed when telling time. Be sure to read the example sentences to understand how to put these words into context.

What time is it ? – Quelle heure est-il ?

o’clockheure(s)Il est six heures (6h).It is 6 o’clock (AM).
quarter pastet quartIl est neuf heures (9h) et quart.It is 9 o’clock and a quarter = 9:15AM.
quarter tilmoins le quartIl est onze heures (11h) moins le quart.It is 11 o’clock minus the quarter = 10:45 AM.
halfet demieIl est onze heures (11h) et demieIt is 11 o’clock and half = 11:30 AM
in the morningdu matinIl est cinq heures (5h) du matin.It is 5 o’clock in the morning.
in the afternoonde l’après-midiIl est quinze heures (15h) de l’après-midi.It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
evening/nightdu soirIl est vingt heures (20h) du soir.It is 8 o’clock in the evening.
noon (12:00 PM)midiIl est midi.It is noon.
midnight (12:00 AM)`minuitIl est minuit.It is midnight.

Notice how the expression Il est is impersonal and remains constant while telling time.

Temporal Prepositions

We tell time in various other ways besides expressing the hour of the day. Below are a list of French temporal prepositions and when to use them in different contexts.

à – = at a specific time (hour or moment in time)

            Vous parlez au patron à 8h du matin.

You speak to the boss at 8 o’clock in the morning.

en – when an event occurs for a particular length in time or during a month, season, or year

            Je préfère faire des promenades en automne.

I prefer to take walks in the fall.

dans – tells the amount of time before an action starts

            Les filles se présentent dans 10 minutes.

The girls are introducing themselves in 10 minutes.

depuis – expresses the duration of action that is still actively occurring (or shows an action that was happening when another event took place)

            Le bébé dort depuis deux heures !

The baby has been sleeping for two hours.

pendant – indicates the entire duration of an event

durant – indicates the entire duration of an event

            Nous avons dîné au restaurant pendant/durant trois heures.

We ate dinner in the restaurant for three hours.

pour – expressions the duration of an action/event in the future

            Je vais en France pour deux mois l’année prochaine.

I am going to France for two months next year.

Notice how not all temporal prepositions translate literally. Many of them literally translate to “for [a certain amount of time],” so it’s important to understand the context of each French sentence.

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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.
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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.
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