How to Tell Time in French


September 9, 2013

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Reading time: 5 minutes

Difficulty: Beginner

Telling time in French could be a tad bit more complicated than in English. So okay, who am I kidding? It's actually A LOT more complicated, in fact.

First, French uses military time or the 24-hour clock for public use or official purposes, while the 12-hour clock is mostly used for personal consumption. In English, the 12-hour clock is more often used, and the military time is usually reserved for, well, the military.

Second, the “liaisons” in the French intonation or that flowing pronunciation make it all sound so confusing. The word “heure” which is used in telling time is pronounced in one smooth flow with the letter before it, spoken in the same breath as the number it follows.

Third, expressions are heavily used which could also add to the complexity.

These are all just a big challenge though, and we're going to breeze through it all with simplified rules and easy steps by using this guide.


Before we proceed to tell how to say time in French, make sure you are already familiar with French numbers and how they work. If not, you can brush up on your French numbers by checking this link --- The Easy Guide to French Numbers.

How to Tell Time in French


Knowing how to properly ask for and tell the time in French is one of the most basic things you need to know. Whether you are simply learning the language so you could use it on your upcoming travel to a French-speaking country, or you're planning to learn it all the way, telling the time in French helps you avoid confusion in setting up meetings, appointments, or in keeping track of the time.

So let's dive to the nitty-gritty right away. Here are the important things you need to know.

1. How to ask the time

Say: Quelle heure est-il? It is pronounced as kell eurh eh teel? Meaning, what's the time? Or what time is it?

2 The basic format for telling time

The format goes like this: Il est (insert number of hours) heure(s) (insert number of minutes). This format applies to both 12—hour clock and 24-hour clock.

3. Pronunciation list

Time PronunciationMeaning
Il est une heure*eel lay tu neur It is one o'clock.
Il est deux heures eel lay deu zeurIt is two o'clock.
Il est trois heures eel lay troa zeurIt is three o'clock.
Il est quatre heures eel lay ka treurIt is four o'clock.
Il est cinq heures eel lay sihng keurIt is five o'clock.
Il est six heures eel lay see zeurIt is six o'clock.
Il est sept heures eel lay say teurIt is seven o'clock.
Il est huit heures eel lay wuee teur It is eight o'clock.
Il est neuf heures eel lay neu veurIt is nine o'clock.
Il est dix heures eel lay dee zeurIt is ten o'clock.
Il est onze heures eel lay ohnz zeurIt is eleven o'clock.
Il est douze heureseel lay doo zeurIt is twelve o'clock.

Note: une heure is without s because of its singular form. 

4. How to abbreviate time when written

In English, we use a colon ( : ) to separate hours from minutes, such as 11:45. In French, the letter h is used.

For example: 11h45

If you are going to write down minutes only, use mn.

For example: 45mn

5.     The common expressions used in telling time 

  • Just like in English, expressions such as “quarter to...” or “quarter past..” are also used in French. The terms “moins” (which literally means minus), and “et” (which means and) are being used.

Here are a couple of examples on how to say it:

It's a quarter to five: il est cinq heures moins le quart (Or literally: It is five hours minus quarter)

Quarter past one: Une heure et quart

  • “moins” is the blanket term used to say “minutes before” an hour.

For example: it's ten to eleven il est onze heures moins dix (It is eleven hours minus ten)

  • “et” can only be used when saying quarter past or half past. When using the specific number of minutes, there is no need to use “et”.
  • To say 'half past' you add et demie to the end of the time phrase.

For example: Neuf heures et demie  (or half past nine)

  • “midi” means midday or noon.

For example: Il est midi. – It's midday.

  • “minuit” means midnight.

For example: Il est minuit. -- It's midnight.

  • Some variations in expression between regular French and 'street' or French slang.
In EnglishIn regular FrenchIn street French
What time is it?Quelle heure est-il ? Il est quelle heure ?
Would you tell me the time, please?Auriez-vous l’heure, s’il vous plaît ?Tu peux me donner l’heure ?

6. Additional French phrases related to time

Here are some extra French phrases for you to take note of. Try to practice the pronunciation included in the last column.

nowmaintenant (mang-NAHNG)
laterplus tard (ploo TAHR)
beforeavant avant (AH-vahng)
morningle matin(luh mat-TANG)
in the morningdans la matinée(dahn lah mah-TEEN-ay)
eveningle soir (luh SWAH)
in the eveningdans la soirée(dahng la SWAH-ray)
nightla nuit (lah nwee)
__ minute(s)__ minute(s)(mee-NUUT)
__ hour(s)__ heure(s)(eur)
__ day(s)__ jour(s) (zhoor)
__ week(s)__ semaine(s) (smen)
__ month(s)__ mois (mwa)
__ year(s)__ année(s) (ah-NAY)

Let's wrap up the lesson on time with some very useful videos for you to watch:


No French lesson on telling time is complete without discussing days and months. So we've compiled here the most important things for you to know. This nifty little guide will save you a lot of confusion when planning appointments and travel arrangements in French-speaking countries. It is also a very basic thing to learn when studying the French language.

1. How to ask the date

Let's start with how to ask for the date. Here's what you'll usually say:

Quelle est la date?                            What is the date?

Quelle est la date aujourd'hui?       What's the date today?

On est le combien aujourd'hui?      What's today's date?

Quel jour sommes-nous?                    What day is it?

Quand?                                                          When?

2. The days of the week and months of the year

Unlike in English, the first letters of the days of the week (les jours de la semaine) aren't being capitalized in French. Try to practice pronouncing the words by using the pronunciation guide in the third column.

Days of the WeekIn FrenchPronunciation

Just like the days of the week, the first letters of the months of the year (les mois de l'année ) are also not capitalized in French. Here's your quick guide.

Months of the YearIn FrenchProunciation
Januaryjanvier zhahng-VYAY
Februaryfévrier fay-VRYAY
Marchmars mahrs
Aprilavril ah-VREEL
Maymai meh
Junejuin zhwang
Julyjuillet zhwee-YAY
Augustaoût oot
Septemberseptembre set-TAHMBR
Octoberoctobre ock-TOHBR
Novembernovembre noh-VAHMBR

3.     How to say the date 

Here's the basic format to use when saying the date in French:

C'est + le + day of the month + month


  • For the day of the month, you use the cardinal numbers 2 to 31.
  • For the first day of the month, you use the ordinal number “1st. Or in French, premier which is abbreviated as “1er”. 


C'est le 4 septembre 2013.
C'est le 24 décembre 1983.
C'est le 31 janvier 1983.

C'est le 30 avril 2013. 

C'est le premier novembre | C'est le 1er novembre.
C'est le premier juillet | C'est le 1er juillet.  

  • In informal speech, you can say “On est” or “Nous sommes” instead of “C'est”.


On est le 15 octobre.
Nous sommes le premier mars.

4. How to write the date

Writing the date in French differs slightly from writing it in American English. In French, the day is written first, followed by the month, and then the year. British English is also written this way.

Here are some examples.

In French                                                                        In American English

le 4 septembre 2013        4/9/2013                           September 4, 2013          9/4/2013
le 24 décembre 1983      24/12/1983                      
December 24, 1983         12/24/1983
le 31 janvier 1983            31/1/1983                         
January 31, 2013             1/31/1983

le 30 avril 2013                30/4/2013                         April 30, 2014                  4/30/2013

 5.     Additional vocabulary and expressions related to dates 

Here are a few other words and phrases you need to know in order to beef up your date-telling skills.

Souvent?How often?
Tous les joursEvery day
Tous les deux joursEvery other day
Une fois par semaineOnce a week
Deux fois par semaineTwice a week
Une fois par moisOnce a month
Ça s'est passé quand?When did it happen?
Hier soirYesterday evening
Avant-hierThe day before yesterday
Il y a une semaineA week ago
Il y a quinze joursTwo weeks ago
L'an dernier or l'année derniéreLast year
Ça va se passer quand?When is it going to happen?
Demain matinTomorrow morning
Après-demainThe day after tomorrow
Dans deux joursIn two days
Dans une semaineIn a week
Dans quinze joursIn two weeks
Le mois prochainNext month
L'an prochain or l'année prochaineNext year

Examples source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

Remember, it takes a lot of practice for you to fully grasp these lessons and master how to say time in French, so don't forget to keep coming back to this page until you have fully familiarized yourself with the words, tips, and pronunciation! Again, the most important thing is to have fun while learning, and before you know it, you'll be well-versed in French in no time.

Amuse-toi bien!

Please tell us in the comment section if there is some topics for vocab that you would like to review.

Here are some FAQs about Time in French

How do you say “What time is it?” in French?

You can say Quelle heure est-il? to ask “What time is it?” in French.

How do you tell time in French?

In French, time is usually based on the 24-hour clock, so learning the numbers 1-24 in French will be a great start.

When telling time in French we use  l’heure instead of “o’clock.” For example, if you want to say it’s 9:00, you will say il est neuf heure or write 9h00.

If you are not used to the 24-hour clock, you may also use a.m. and p.m. format. Just use the following:

du matin —  means a.m.
de l’après-midi — means from noon until around 6 p.m.
du soir — means after 6 p.m. until midnight

How do you say “time” in French?

Time in French is l’heure.

How do you write time in French?

Writing time in French replaces the colon (:) with h
10:30 – 10h30
21:00 – 21h30

About the author 

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Instagram

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