How to Tell Time in French

By OptiLingo • 7 minute read

Telling time is an everyday activity. That’s why you need to master the vocabulary and expressions relating to time when you’re learning French. Luckily, learning how to tell time in French is fairly easy. Follow our guide to the most useful phrases and words, and you’ll progress towards fluency in record time (pun intended).

English vs French: The Differences in Time Logic

There are a few basic differences between telling time in English vs French. Here are the key rules that you need to follow to stay grammatically correct in French:

Time Itself

The French have two different words for time: “l’heure” and “le temps”. “L’heure” describes time on the clock, whereas “le temps” is for time as a length. Be careful which one you use in different situations. You can ask “Quelle heure est-il?” for “What time is it?”, and say “Les temps sont durs” for “Times are hard”.

You Need to Say “Heure”

While saying “o’clock” in English is optional, you always need to say heure after the number if you’re telling time in French. The only two exceptions are “midi” (noon), and “minuit” (midnight)

An “H” Instead of a Colon

When the French are writing the time, they put an “h” (for heure) between the hours and minutes. Whereas in English, the same would call for a colon. 2:30 becomes 2h30 in French when you tell the time.

A.M. or P.M.? Neither!

Generally, the French use the 24-hour clock when they’re telling the time. However, if they want to use the 12-hour clock, they don’t differentiate with a.m. or p.m. Instead, they use the following three expressions after the time:

  • du matin: In the morning, until noon.
  • de l’après-midi: From noon until 6 p.m.
  • du soir: From 6 p.m. until midnight.

telling time in French

The Basics of Telling Time in French

To start off, here are the key words to telling time in French. These time related expressions are used very often, so they’re extremely useful for all language learners:

time
l’heure
noon
midi
midnight
minuit
and a quarter
et quart
quarter to
moins le quart
and a half
et demie
in the morning
du matin
in the afternoon
de l’après-midi
in the evening
du soir

What Time Is It? – Quelle heure est-il? 

The first step of telling time is, of course, learning French numbers. The following high-frequency phrases are a few examples of what you may hear, when you ask a French person for the time. Study these phrases, and notice the sentence structure and grammar associated with them. Remember this skeleton, and telling time in French will become infinitely easier.

Il est _____ heure (_____).

One thing to look out for is what comes after “heure” when you’re telling a specific time within the hour. There may be several different ways to say 3:45 in French. So, make sure you commit all variations to memory.

It’s one o’clock
Il est une heure
1h00
It’s two o’clock
Il est deux heures
2h00
It’s 3:30
Il est trois heures et demie

Il est trois heures trente

3h30
It’s 4:15
Il est quatre heures et quart

Il est quatre heures quinze

4h15
It’s 4:45
Il est cinq heures moins le quart

Il est cinq heures moins quinze

Il est quatre heures quarante-cinq

4h45
It’s 5:10
Il est cinq heures dix
5h10
It’s 6:50
Il est sept heures moins dix

Il est six heures cinquante

6h50
It’s 6 a.m.
Il est six heures du matin
6h00
It’s 4 p.m.
Il est quatre heures de l’après-midi

Il est seize heures

16h00
It’s noon
Il est midi
12h00
It’s midnight
Il est minuit
0h00

telling time in french

How Do You Ask the Time in French?

These are the most common phrases if you’re wondering what time it is in French. Use these to politely ask a stranger, or to strike up a conversation easily. 

What time is it?
Quelle heure est-il ?
Do you have the time, please?
Est-ce que vous avez l’heure, s’il vous plaît ?
What time is the film?

The film is at seven o’clock in the evening.

À quelle heure est le film?

Le film est à sept heures du soir.

Periods of Time in French

If you’re talking about periods of time, it’s useful to have this French vocabulary

a second
une seconde
a minute
une minute
an hour
une heure
a day / a whole day
un jour, une journée
a week
une semaine
a month
un mois
a year / a whole year
un an, une année
a decade
une décennie
a century
un siècle
a millennium
un millénaire

Relative Time Expressions in French

These expressions relating to time are extremely useful in conversation. Everyday French doesn’t require a large vocabulary. 80% of spoken language comes from 20% of our vocabulary, according to the Pareto Principle. So, focus on high-frequency expressions when you’re learning a foreign language. The following words and phrases are especially common, and you’ll reach fluency rapidly if you learn them.

yesterday
hier
today
aujourd’hui
now
maintenant
tomorrow
demain
the day before yesterday
avant-hier
the day after tomorrow
l’après-demain
the day after, the next day
le lendemain
last week
la semaine passée/dernière
next week
la semaine prochaine
days of the week
les jours de la semaine
months of the year
les mois de l’année
the calendar
le​ calendrier
the four seasons
les quatre saisons
a little while ago, in a little while
tout à l’heure
right away
tout de suite
within a week
d’ici une semaine
for, since
depuis
ago (depuis versus il y a)
il y a
on time
à l’heure
in time
à temps
at that time
à l’époque
early
en avance
late
en retard

Describe a Sunset in French

French is a beautiful, and romantic language. There are expressions of time that become especially beautiful in French. Use this vocabulary to delve into the romantic side of French time expressions.

sunrise
le lever de soleil
dawn
l’aube (f)
morning
le matin
afternoon
l’après-midi
noon
midi
evening
le soir
dusk
le crépuscule, entre chien et loup
sunset
le coucher de soleil
night
la nuit
midnight
le minute

French Grammar When Telling Time

Grammar is often boring. It’s a repetitive drill that no language learner enjoy. However, with these high-frequency words, you can master the grammar of telling time in French easily. Here are the most important and common prepositions and adverbs you’ll need to tell time.

Temporal Prepositions

since
depuis
during
pendant
at
à
in
en
in
dans
for
pour

Temporal Adverbs

currently
actuellement
then
alors
after
après
today
aujourd’hui
previously, beforehand
auparavant
before
avant
soon
bientôt
meanwhile
cependant
afterwards, meanwhile
ensuite
for a long time
longtemps
now
maintenant
anytime
n’importe quand
then
puis
recently
récemment
late
tard
all of a sudden, suddenly
tout à coup
in a little while, a little while ago
tout à l’heure

Frequency in French

These phrases and adverbs are extremely useful when you’re speaking French. If you want to reach French fluency fast, make sure you commit these to memory.

once
une fois
once a week
une fois par semaine
daily
quotidien
every day
tous les jours
every other day
tous les deux jours
weekly
hebdomadaire
every week
toutes les semaines
monthly
mensuel
yearly
annuel

 

again
encore
one more time
encore une fois
never, ever
jamais
sometimes
parfois
sometimes
quelquefois
rarely
rarement
often
souvent
always
toujours

Reach French Fluency Fast

You can use this extensive vocabulary to describe everything to do with telling the time in French. But you need much more to reach fluency in French. You need a reliable method, spaced repetition, and high-frequency phrases. And that’s exactly what OptiLingo offers.

This language learning app combines the best language learning methods. By showing you common phrases and words, you’ll see and learn exactly how everyday French people speak. And then you can speak like a local yourself. Gain impressive and beneficial knowledge with OptiLingo. Try your free lesson today to discover how effective this language learning app is!