How to talk about TIME in English

Being able to tell the time in English is essential.

We all have to talk about the time and things we do with our time. This is a basic everyday conversation.

We might have to talk about time at work or in college — or in many other situations.

Students are often adept at talking about numbers in English, but talking about the time may often be something more of a challenge.

So let’s take a look at talking about time.

Are you ready?

Telling the Time in English

 

O’clock

The phrase o’clock comes from an old English phrase of the clock.

Over the years, it has become abbreviated to o’clock.

We use this phrase to tell the time when the time is exactly on the hour — no matter if it is night or day.

Examples

  • I get up at 7 o’clock
  • I go to bed at 10 o’clock
  • I usually eat dinner at 6 o’clock
  • The meeting starts at 11 o’clock
  • Let’s meet for lunch at 12 o’clock

 

The Time in Minutes

There are two ways of telling the time in minutes.

  • Say the hour first, then the minutes
  • Say the minutes, then the hour

 

Hour First, Then Minutes

3:20 — It’s three twenty

9:45 — It’s nine forty-five

12:30 — It’s twelve-thirty

 

Minutes First, Then Hour

8:20 — It’s twenty past eight

10:40 — It’s twenty to eleven

4:10 — It’s ten past four

 

Notice that there are two main ways of saying the time like this.

  • Past — twenty past eight
  • To — twenty to eleven

 

And when you use these two ways of saying the time, you can only use it when the time is exactly FIVE, TEN, TWENTY or TWENTY-FIVE minutes past or to the hour.

Namely — 5, 10, 20 or 25 minutes past or to the hour.

 

In English, we don’t say things like this:

  • 3:18 — eighteen minutes past three
  • 10:48 — twelve minutes to eleven

 

Quarter Past

In English, we use the phrase a quarter past to indicate that it is fifteen minutes past the hour.

We say quarter because on a traditional clock it literally looks like a quarter of the hour.

  • 9:15 — a quarter past nine
  • 3:15 — a quarter past three

 

Half-Past

We use the phrase half-past to indicate that it is thirty minutes past the hour.

On a traditional clock, the minute hand is halfway around the clock face.

  • 2:30 — half-past two
  • 7:30 — half-past seven

 

We never say half to the hour in English!

 

Quarter To

And a quarter to is used to tell us it is fifteen minutes to the hour.

  • 2:45 — a quarter to three
  • 7:45 — a quarter to eight

Phrases to Tell Someone the Time

 

In English, we usually say IT IS, or IT’S when telling someone the time.

For example:

  • It is eleven-thirty
  • It is ten past twelve
  • It’s half-past nine
  • It’s eight twenty

 

We use the word AT when talking about the exact time.

For example:

  • The train arrives at nine-fifteen
  • The meeting begins at ten thirty
  • The restaurant opens at eleven-thirty

 

Practise Telling the Time

 

It is good practice to talk about the time that you do things in your life.

To do this, answer all the questions below. If you can practise with a friend, even better. One of you can ask the questions and the other can answer and say what time you do these things. Then swap and practise again.

 

Questions

  1. What time do you wake up?
  2. What time do you go to school/college/work?
  3. What time do you have lunch?
  4. What time do you go home?
  5. What time do you get home?
  6. What time do you eat dinner?
  7. What time do you go to bed?
  8. What time do you usually meet your friends in the evening?
  9. What time do you meet your friends to go shopping?
  10. What time do you like to walk in the park?
  11. What time do you like to sit down and read a book?
  12. What time do you like to watch your favourite TV show?

Asking the Time in English

 

So now we know how to tell the time in English.

What we need to learn now is how to ask for the time.

 

These are the most common ways to ask for the time in English

  • What time is it?
  • Could you please tell me the time?
  • Do you have the right time?
  • Do you have the time?
  • What’s the time?
  • What is the time?

 

Informal Ways to ask for the time

  • You got the right time?
  • Got the time?

 

Very Informal

  • Time izzit?

(An abbreviation of What time is it?)

 

Asking for a Specific Time

 

When we ask someone for a specific time of an event taking place we use the word WHEN and WHAT.

  • What time does the flight leave?
  • What time does the meeting start?
  • What time do you get up?
  • When does the English class begin?
  • When does the movie start?
  • When do you go to bed usually?

 

Practise Asking the Time

 

You can practise asking and telling the time with a classmate or friend.

But it should be quite simple. One person asks the time, the other person tells the time.

You can also ask what time events happen or take place. And the other person can say what time.

Look at the following questions. You can use these or try to make your own to practise.

  • What time does the English class begin?
  • What time are we meeting for lunch?
  • What time are you going to the library this afternoon?
  • What time shall we meet for coffee?
  • What time does your train arrive?
  • What time does the meeting begin?
  • What time do you want to go to town?

Phrases in English for Times of The Day

 

Phrases we use to show a rough time of the day. We may not give the specific time, but it gives the listener an idea of when we are talking about.

 

Look at the following phrases and examples.

Sunrise

I usually get up at sunrise

 

The crack of dawn

I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning

 

This morning

I heard a strange noise in my house this morning

We have a meeting this morning

 

In the morning — (four in the morning)

I got back home at four in the morning

 

Noon

We have lunch at noon

 

Midday (roughly between 11am and 1pm)

He gets here around midday

 

This Afternoon

I have to leave early this afternoon

I have my class this afternoon

 

In the afternoon — three in the afternoon

I go for a walk at three in the afternoon

I go to the gym at four in the afternoon

 

This Evening

There’s a great movie on this evening

Let’s go out for dinner this evening

 

In the evening — six in the evening

We have to meet the others at six in the evening

 

Sunset

I get home around sunset

 

After dark

I often have dinner after dark

 

Nighttime

I usually study at nighttime

 

At night — ten at night

I go to bed at eleven at night

 

Midnight

I didn’t get home till after midnight

 

Bedtime

I got home well after bedtime

This is relative as bedtime for one person could be 8pm while for another it could be midnight.

 

Phrases to Show a Duration of Time

 

We use these phrases to describe how long something will be. Or the length of time required to do something.

They are in order from a very short amount of time to a very long time.

  • A jiffy
  • A moment
  • One second
  • Just a second
  • About a minute
  • One minute
  • Two minutes
  • A few minutes
  • Quarter of an hour
  • Half an hour
  • An hour or so
  • A couple of hours
  • A few hours
  • Ages

Remember: all of these phrases can be used in a very personal way.

Just because someone says I have been waiting for you for hours, does not literally mean that.

 

Let’s look at some examples in a sentence.

  • I will be back in a jiffy
  • Wait a moment, please
  • I’ll be with you in one second
  • Just a second, please
  • It will only take about a minute
  • Give me one minute and I will bring your coffee
  • It only takes two minutes to send the email
  • I will need a few minutes to find the documents
  • I can meet you in quarter of an hour
  • It takes me half an hour to get to work
  • Dinner will be ready in an hour or so
  • The training is around a couple of hours
  • It takes a few hours to complete the article
  • It took ages to get here!

 

Practise using Time Phrases

 

You can practise all the time phrases by saying what you do at each time.

For example, one very common phrase is Midday.

What are you usually doing at midday?

Where are you?

This can help you to use the phrase.

 

For example:

  • I usually have lunch with my coworkers at midday
  • At midday, I go to the sandwich shop to get something to eat

 

Can you try to use all the Time Phrase to talk about your own life?

  • Sunrise
  • The crack of dawn
  • This morning
  • In the morning
  • Noon
  • Midday
  • This Afternoon
  • In the afternoon
  • This Evening
  • In the evening
  • Sunset
  • After dark
  • Nighttime
  • At night
  • Midnight
  • Bedtime

 

With some phrases, you might have to talk about an event that happened in the past.

For example: Midnight

Last weekend, I went out with my friends and I didn’t get back home until after midnight

 

But try to make your own sentences with all the phrases. Think about things you do — or did — in your life.

Write the sentences down in your notebook. This will help you to remember how to use the time phrases.

 

Practise using Phrases to Show the Duration of Time

 

You must try to use all the phrases and words to show a duration of time.

You can practise with a friend and make short dialogues. Or you can write down how long it takes you to do daily things in your life.

Use all the phrases below:

  • A jiffy
  • A moment
  • One second
  • Just a second
  • About a minute
  • One minute
  • Two minutes
  • A few minutes
  • Quarter of an hour
  • Half an hour
  • An hour or so
  • A couple of hours
  • A few hours
  • Ages

Prepositions of Time

 

Prepositions of time are words we use to express when things happen.

The most common prepositions of time are:

  • Ago
  • On
  • Last
  • At
  • In
  • For
  • During

 

Let’s look at some examples of how to use them in a sentence.

Ago

I came to London five years ago

I bought these jeans about a month ago

 

On

I started my new job on Monday

We had a big party on our wedding anniversary

Can we go out for dinner on my birthday?

 

Last

I went to Spain last year

I passed all my exams last week

 

At

I start work at 8:30

We usually have a break at 11 o’clock

I try to meet my friends at the weekend

I met my brother at six o’clock

 

In

It was my birthday in September

In the winter, we usually stay at home

I was born in 2002

 

For

He came to visit for two hours

I lived in Japan for one year

We went away for the weekend

 

During

The children love to go away during the summer holidays

He fell asleep during the class

 

Practise using Prepositions of Time

 

You should try to practise all the prepositions of time.

Make your own sentences using each word and try to relate it to your own life and your daily or regular activities.

 

For example: Last

Last week, I had so many tests at school

Last Friday, we had a small party at work as one of our colleagues was getting married

 

Look at all the prepositions of time and make your sentences.

  • Ago
  • On
  • Last
  • At
  • In
  • For
  • During

 

Think of your own sentences and write them down in your notebook.

This will make it easier to remember all the prepositions of time and how they are used.

Conjunctions

 

There are some English words that we can use to join two sentences or phrases together. These are very common in English.

The most common conjunctions to join time are:

  • Then
  • Later
  • After
  • Before
  • When
  • After that/Afterwards

 

And this is how you can use them in a sentence:

  • I went to the gym, then I had lunch with my friends
  • Later on, I caught up with my girlfriend
  • After I had breakfast, I left to catch the bus
  • I got home before my wife
  • When I woke up, I jumped out of bed immediately
  • After that, we all went back to work

 

Practise using Conjunctions

 

Make your own sentences about your own life using conjunctions.

Use all of these words/phrases in your sentences:

  • Then
  • Later
  • After
  • Before
  • When
  • After that/Afterwards

 

For example: After

After I finish my homework, my mum lets me watch TV

After I have a shower, I get dressed and go to school

 

Think of sentences that relate to your own life. Then write them in your notebook.

Adverbs of Time

 

These are the most common adverbs of time:

  • Often
  • Never
  • Sometimes
  • Always

 

And this is how you can use these words:

  • I often go to the park to walk my dog
  • I never eat fast food
  • Sometimes, I meet up with my friends
  • I always call my mum every week

 

Practise using Adverbs of Time

 

And you must practise using adverbs of time.

These are the most common adverbs of time:

  • Often
  • Never
  • Sometimes
  • Always

Then make your own sentences that are connected to your own life.

 

For example: Sometimes

Sometimes, I like to go for a walk after dinner

Sometimes, all my family watch a movie in the evening

 

Think of sentences of your own. Then write them all in your notebook to help you remember.

 

Conclusion

 

Talking about the time in English is very common.

You may not have to tell someone the time every day, but you are very likely to have a conversation where you have to use time phrases.

Any time you talk about your daily life and when you do things and how often, then you will need to use certain time words or phrases.

The more you practise using these words or phrases, the more fluent your English will sound.

Good luck and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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