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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.
BUT WAIT —
Before we proceed to telling 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.
PART 1. TELLING THE TIME
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 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
|Il est une heure*||eel lay tu neur||It is one o'clock.|
|Il est deux heures||eel lay deu zeur||It is two o'clock.|
|Il est trois heures||eel lay troa zeur||It is three o'clock.|
|Il est quatre heures||eel lay ka treur||It is four o'clock.|
|Il est cinq heures||eel lay sihng keur||It is five o'clock.|
|Il est six heures||eel lay see zeur||It is six o'clock.|
|Il est sept heures||eel lay say teur||It is seven o'clock.|
|Il est huit heures||eel lay wuee teur||It is eight o'clock.|
|Il est neuf heures||eel lay neu veur||It is nine o'clock.|
|Il est dix heures||eel lay dee zeur||It is ten o'clock.|
|Il est onze heures||eel lay ohnz zeur||It is eleven o'clock.|
|Il est douze heures||eel lay doo zeur||It 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 English||In regular French||In 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.
|later||plus tard||(ploo TAHR)|
|morning||le matin||(luh mat-TANG)|
|in the morning||dans la matinée||(dahn lah mah-TEEN-ay)|
|evening||le soir||(luh SWAH)|
|in the evening||dans la soirée||(dahng la SWAH-ray)|
|night||la 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:
PART 2. TELLING THE DATE
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 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?
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 Week||In French||Pronunciation|
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 Year||In French||Prounciation|
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.
|Tous les jours||Every day|
|Tous les deux jours||Every other day|
|Une fois par semaine||Once a week|
|Deux fois par semaine||Twice a week|
|Une fois par mois||Once a month|
|Ça s'est passé quand?||When did it happen?|
|Hier soir||Yesterday evening|
|Avant-hier||The day before yesterday|
|Il y a une semaine||A week ago|
|Il y a quinze jours||Two weeks ago|
|L'an dernier or l'année derniére||Last year|
|Ça va se passer quand?||When is it going to happen?|
|Demain matin||Tomorrow morning|
|Après-demain||The day after tomorrow|
|Dans deux jours||In two days|
|Dans une semaine||In a week|
|Dans quinze jours||In two weeks|
|Le mois prochain||Next month|
|L'an prochain or l'année prochaine||Next year|
Please consider buying my vocabulary ebook and support Talk in French at the same time 🙂
Examples source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar
Remember, it takes a lot of practice for you to fully grasp these lessons, 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.
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