How to tell the time in Spanish

How to tell the time in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated October 5, 2023

Knowing how to tell the time in Spanish is crucial. Sure, a lot of people have smartphones and even smartwatches these days, but you’ll definitely get asked what time it is at some point in Latin America. 

Depending on where you are, learning how to tell the time in Spanish can also be an exercise in cultural appreciation. Did you know that not every country uses the same calendar? In Thailand, for example, the day is broken up into four distinct quadrants. And in Japan, you may encounter a 30-hour clock. Spanish-speaking countries also have their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to telling time.

Of course, knowing how to tell time has practical uses, too. Read this guide so you can stay punctual whether you’re scheduling meetings, making reservations or reading bus and train timetables in Spanish.

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Clock times in Spanish

Spanish-speaking countries use a 24-hour clock. It’s common to see times written in both the 24-hour and 12-hour format. For example: 14:00 can also be written as 2 p.m. or as 14h (horas).

To avoid confusion about whether it’s 12 midnight or 12 noon, you’ll often see it spelled out like so:

  • 12 de la tarde (12 noon)
  • 12 de la noche/de la mañana/de la madrugada (12 midnight)

There are four different expressions to talk about “a.m.” or “p.m.” in Spanish:

  • de la madrugada (early morning before dawn; from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.)
  • de la mañana (morning; from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
  • del mediodía (midday; noon)
  • de la tarde (from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
  • de la noche (from 8 p.m. to midnight)

As in English, there are different ways to read the clock in Spanish. You may use hours and minutes, or you may break times into quarter-hours or half-hours. Whichever method you prefer, here are some key vocabulary terms to help you tell the time in Spanish:

  • en punto (on the hour)
  • y cuarto (quarter past)
  • y media (half past)
  • menos cuarto (quarter ‘till; literally: “…minus a quarter” or “…minus 15 minutes”)
  • menos diez/diez para las.. (ten ‘till; literally: “…minus 10 minutes”)

The most common way of verbally expressing time in Spanish is to use hours and minutes, like so:

  • 2:05 → dos y cinco
  • 11:20 → once y veinte
  • 19:57 → siete y cincuenta y siete

Other ways of telling the time in Spanish

To construct full sentences telling the time in Spanish, we use ser and the definite articles las, la, and el. The structure for saying the time out loud is: es/son + las + hour + (y) number of minutes:

TimeHours and Minutes in SpanishAlternative ways of telling time in Spanish
12:15Son las doce y quinceSon las doce y cuarto del mediodía
18:30Son las seis y treintaSon las seis y media de la tarde
8:50Son las ocho y cincuentaSon las nueve menos diez de la mañana
13:07Es la una y sieteEs la una y siete de la tarde
15:00Son las tresSon las tres en punto
12:00Son las doceEs mediodía en punto

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Examples of asking and telling the time in Spanish

Now that we know how to tell the time in Spanish, let’s look at some example conversations in context:

‘Pedir la hora’ (Asking the time)

  • Person A: ¡Hola, buen día! ¿Qué hora es? (Hello, good day. What time is it?)
  • Person B: Buen día, son las diez para las nueve. (Good day. It’s ten ‘till nine.)
  • Person A: Gracias. (Thanks.)
  • Person B: No hay de qué. (You’re welcome.)

Other key ways to ask the time are:

  • ¿Qué hora tiene? (What time do you have?)
  • ¿Tiene la hora? (Do you have the time?)

Programar una reunion’ (Scheduling a meeting)

  • Person A: ¿A qué hora empieza la reunión? (What time does the meeting start?)
  • Person B: Aún no decidí. ¿Qué tal a las 11? (I haven’t decided. What about 11?)
  • Person A: Está bien. Habrá algunos que no lleguen en punto. (That’s fine. There will be some who don’t arrive exactly on time.)
  • Person B: La programamos para las 11 pero empezaremos a las 11:30. (It is  scheduled for 11 but we’ll start at 11:30.)

‘Horarios del bus’ (Bus times)

  • Person A: ¿Cuanto tiempo falta? (How much time is left?)
  • Person B: Casi dos horas. Llegamos a las 18:35. (Nearly two hours. We arrive at 6:35.)

Know how to tell the time in Spanish

Telling time in Spanish is not only a language skill — it’s a life skill. At work, at home and randomly on the street, you’ll likely talk with people about the time of day. It’s also a good way to get to know local culture. Notice that, in Spanish, “afternoon” goes pretty late — until about 8 p.m.! That says a lot about how late dinners, parties and other social events tend to go in the Spanish-speaking world.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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