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Telling Time

Spanish for Beginners

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Clock  with 24-hour and 12-hour times.

Reloj en Cariñena, España. (Clock in Cariñena, Spain.)

Photo by Juanedc.com; Creative Commons license.

If you can count to 29 in Spanish, you can tell time.

The basic way of telling time in Spanish is to use the singular form of ser ("to be"), which is es, for one o'clock and the plural form, son, for other times. Minutes can be stated simply by separating them from the hour using y, the word for "and."

  • Es la una. It is 1:00.
  • Es la una y dos. It is 1:02.
  • Son las dos. It is 2:00.
  • Son las tres. It is 3:00.
  • Son las seis y cinco. It is 6:05.
  • Son las siete y diez. It is 7:10.
  • Son las once y diecinueve. It is 11:19.

To indicate the half hour, use media. Use cuarto to indicate the quarter hours.

  • Es la una y media. It is 1:30.
  • Son las cuatro y media. It is 4:30.
  • Es la una y cuarto. It is 1:15.

It is customary to use menos to tell time during the second half of each hour, stating the number of minutes until the following hour.

  • Es la una menos diez. It is 12:50. (It is ten until one.)
  • Son las cinco menos cinco. It is 4:55. (It is five until five.)
  • Son las diez menos veinte. It is 9:40. (It is twenty until ten.)
  • Son las ocho menos cuarto. It is 7:45. (It is quarter until eight.)

In most of the Spanish-speaking world, both 12-hour and 24-hour clocks are used, the latter being quite common in schedules and similar printed materials. To indicate time of day when using the 12-hour clock, use de la mañana before noon (mediodía), de la tarde between noon and early evening, and de la noche between then and midnight (medianoche).

  • Es medianoche. It's midnight.
  • Son las siete y cuarto de la mañana. It's 7:15 a.m. (It is 7:15 in the morning.)
  • Es mediodía. It's noon.
  • Son las cuatro menos cinco de la tarde. It's 3:55 p.m. (It is five before four in the afternoon.)
  • Son las ocho y media de la noche. It's 8:30 p.m. (It is eight and a half at night.)

Here are some other time-related expressions that can be useful:

  • Son las tres y cuarto en punto. It's 3:15 exactly.
  • Son las seis y media más o menos. It's about 6:30.
  • Salimos a las nueve. We are leaving at 9:00.
  • Era la una. Eran las dos (tres, cuatro, etc.). It was 1:00. It was 2:00 (3:00, 4:00, etc.).
  • Buenos días. Good day, good morning.
  • Buenas tardes. Good afternoon, good evening (until about 8 p.m.).
  • Buenas noches. Good evening, good night (as either a greeting or a farewell).
  • ¿Qué hora es? What time is it?
  • ¿Cuándo ...? When ... ?

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