Expressing time in French

Expressing time in French

by Clara Avrillier

Updated November 9, 2022

Learning a new language can be daunting, and French is certainly no walk in the park. Expressing time in French is a vital part of speaking the language, and it can help you in your everyday life – especially if you have a jam-packed schedule when visiting (or living) in France. This article covers the basics of how to learn time in French, important lessons on time to know about and French clock times. 

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What are the basics?

First off, it’s important to know your numbers in French before you start learning about time. You’ll only need to know numbers 1-59 for expressing time in French and it’s worth using some vocabulary apps to help you practice. 

What important points do I need to know about?

There are a few important points you should know about when it comes to expressing time in French:

  1. First, in French, it is quite common to use the 24-hour clock to express time, rather than the 12-hour clock. For example, 5 o’clock in the afternoon would be expressed as 17:00, rather than 5:00.
  2. AM and PM do not exist in French, therefore to express this in French you can say du matin (in the morning), de l’après-midi (in the afternoon) and du soir (in the evening). Otherwise, you can just use the French clock times, i.e. expressing time using the 24-hour clock. 
  3. There are three ways of writing “time” in French, but for expressing time, we’ll only use the first term: 
    1. L’heure – this is used to express time in French
    2. Le temps – time in the context of a period of time, for example: J’ai passé beaucoup de temps avec ma famille (I spent a lot of time with my family).
    3. La fois – time in the context of one instance, for example: Je suis allé.e au cinéma deux fois (I went to the cinema twice). 
  4. When expressing times like “ten to five” or “twenty to two”, the French say “five o’clock minus ten” and “two o’clock minus twenty” (we’ll cover this in detail down below).

How do I express time in French?

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of expressing time in French. 

Asking what the time is

If you want to ask what time it is in French, you can say:

Quelle heure est-il ? or Il est quelle heure ? (What time is it?)

The first phrase is more formal while the second phrase is more common and informal, so you can use it when asking a family member or a friend.

Avez-vous l’heure ? (Do you have the time?)

This is another formal way of asking for the time.

À quelle heure….? (At what time…?)

This phrase is very useful when you want to ask the time for a specific event, like a concert:

À quelle heure commence le concert ?  (What time does the concert start?)

Replying to the question

The most common phrase to express time in French is:

Il est __ heure(s) (It’s __ o’clock)

Here are some examples:

Il est une heure (It’s one o’clock)

Il est quinze heures (It’s 3 pm)

Il est trois heures de l’après-midi (It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon)

*Note the use of heure in the plural form (heures) when we are using any numbers from two and above.

A table for expressing time in French

Here’s a table to help you learn how to express and write time in French. Each row includes several ways to express the given time. 

MiddayMidi / 12 h
MidnightMinuit / 00 h
2 o’clock in the afternoon
2 pm
Il est deux heures de l’après-midi
Il est quatorze heures / 14 h
3:15 am
3:15 pm
3:15 pm
Il est trois heures quinze / 3 h 15
Il est quinze heures quinze
Il est quinze heures et quart / 15 h 15
4:30 am
4:30 pm
4:30 am
Il est quatre heures trente / 4 h 30
Il est seize heures trente
Il est quatre heures trente du matin
6:45 pmIl est dix-huit heures quarante-cinq / 18 h 45
Il est six heures quarante-cinq du soir
Il est sept heures moins le quart
22:50Il est vingt-deux heures cinquante / 22 h 50
Il est onze heures moins dix (it’s “eleven o’clock minus ten” = ten to eleven)

This video also goes over these expressions and is a great way to practice your pronunciation:

YouTube video

Spare time

So there you have it: A summary of how to learn time in French, including the specific points to keep an eye out for and ways to express time in the language. If you have some spare time, it’s worth going over this as it’s a fundamental part of everyday life. You can also take a look at other French resources to help you continue to learn time and other important elements of this beautiful language.

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Clara Avrillier is a writer, linguist and content manager living in the South of France. She loves getting out in nature, doing sport, reading and playing music. She also works with expats looking to move to France. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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