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Telling Time in French

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

One of the most crucial things that you can learn to do in a new language is how to tell time. After all, it's useful for everything from setting meetings to planning a date. This lesson teaches you how to tell the time in French.

The Need to Tell Time

So, you've just met a charming French person who you can't wait to see again. They smile, you smile, and you agree to meet again the next day for dinner. Ah, romance in Paris.

However, meeting someone in the future is next to impossible without being able to tell time. While some languages may lack the concept of hours and minutes, French is decidedly not one of those. In this lesson, we're going to make sure you can make that dinner date with that charming person by making sure that you're comfortable telling time in French. Before we go any further, I do assume that you can count to 30 or so in French. If not, you may want to review that before moving on.

Telling the time in French is essential.
French Clock

Asking the Time

Since you don't want to keep your dinner companion late, you obviously have a vested interest in knowing the time. So, it's useful to be able to ask someone what time it is.

To do so in French, simply ask Quelle heure est-il? (pronounced: kel ore eh-til). When you get a response, you'll hear Il est (pronounced eel eh) and then the time.

Times of the Day

Now, in English we often leave off the time. For example, if we tell someone that it's 7 am, we'll say 7 am or even 7 o'clock. It's not so in French.

If you're telling someone it is 7 am, you would say Il est sept heures. Heures_ (pronounced: ore) literally means 'hours,' but it's just a semantic difference between French and English. You use this anytime except for midi (pronounced: meh-dee) and minuit (pronounced: mehn-we), which mean 'noon' and 'midnight', respectively.

Another big difference is that many French people use a 24-hour clock rather than a 12-hour clock. This can take some getting used to. As an example, if it were 1 pm, people could say either Il est treize heures, meaning 'It is 13 hours,' or Il est une heure de l'après-midi (pronounced: lap-re meh-dee), meaning 'It is one in the afternoon.' In case you were curious, the word for morning is du matin (pronounced: dew ma-than), which just means 'in the morning.' All of this is quite important to remember when scheduling a lunch date with a friendly previous dinner companion!

The French typically use a 24 hour clock.
24 hour clock

Halves and Quarters

Of course, time doesn't just happen on the hour. Just like English, French has quarters, halves, and minutes. Don't worry though, since these are all very easy to use. With one group of exceptions, all of these are simply put behind the word heures.

For example, to say it is 6:30 without reference to being morning or afternoon, you'd say Il est six heures et demie, as demie (pronounced: de-mi) means 'half.' Likewise, to say that it is 6:15, you'd say Il est six heures et quart, since quart (pronounced: quar) means 'quarter.' For a number of minutes, it's even easier: just put the number of minutes after the word heures.

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