Master the Clock: Tell Time in Italian and Make Plans Like a Pro

“What time does the restaurant close?”

No matter where you are in the world, telling time is hugely important!

So what’s the best place to start learning time in Italian?

With the numbers, of course!


1-60: Italian Numbers for Telling Time

As you no doubt already know, the most important words for telling time in Italian (or in any language) are the numbers 1 to 60.

Let’s learn those time-related numbers, starting with the basics: 1-10.

1 — Uno

2 — Due

3 — Tre

4 — Quattro

5 — Cinque

6 — Sei

7 — Sette

8 — Otto

9 — Nove

10 — Dieci

Next up are the teens. They’re similar to their single-digit counterparts, with dici added on to signify that we’re in the tens now.

Pay attention to 17-19, which turn the formula backward!

11 — Undici

12 — Dodici

13 — Tredici

14 — Quattordici

15 — Quindici

16 — Sedici

17 — Diciassette

18 — Diciotto

19 — Diciannove

Here’s where it gets a little simpler. The twenties have the same pronunciation as the single digits, with venti added to the beginning.

There are two exceptions to this: 21 and 28 drop the i, so venti becomes vent.

20 — Venti

21 — Ventuno

22 — Ventidue

23 — Ventitré

24 — Ventiquattro

25 — Venticinque

26 — Ventisei

27 — Ventisette

28 — Ventotto

29 — Ventinove

From here, you just apply the same principles (including the 1 and 8 rule—drop the -a before adding uno or otto) to the thirties, forties and fifties, until you get to sixty.

30 — Trenta

40 — Quaranta

50 — Cinquanta

60 — Sessanta

And now you know all the Italian numbers you need for telling time!

The 24-hour Clock

If you’re planning a visit abroad, it’s important to note that Italy, like much of Europe, uses the 24-hour clock format.

The 24-hour clock doesn’t use a.m. and p.m. to differentiate the time of day like most people in North America do.

Basically, instead of rolling back to 1 after the noon hour is done, the numbers keep climbing.

Instead of 1 p.m., you’ll see 13:00. The numbers then continue increasing until 11 p.m., which is 23:00.

Since midnight is technically the start of the day, the clock rolls right back to zero (00:00) once midnight strikes (although some places also write it as 24:00).

If this seems complicated, don’t worry! It may sound childish, but it’s super easy to count 24-hour time on your fingers. 

Simply count up on your fingers starting at 13 (the first finger is 13, the second is 14 and so on). The number of fingers used will coincide with the 12-hour clock, while the numbers you count are the 24-hour clock equivalents. That just leaves 11 p.m., or 23:00.

For example, counting one finger is 1 p.m., or 13:00; counting three fingers is 3 p.m., or 15:00. It’s that simple!

After some practice, it’ll become second nature to you.

Basic Italian Vocabulary for Telling Time

Now that you know your numbers and you understand the 24-hour clock, it’s time to get to work on some time-telling vocabulary!

Along with numbers, you’ll need to actually know how to express the time. You might need to ask someone what time it is, find out when a show starts or a number of other situations revolving around the time of day.

Here are some basic words and phrases that are important to know when telling time:

Hour — Ora

Minute — Minuto

Second — Secondo

Clock — Orologio

What time is it? — Che ore sono? / Che ora è?

If you’re responding to the question above, there’s a little quirk to remember: If it’s 1 o’clock, use the singular è; the rest of the numbers use the plural sono.

It’s 1 o’clock — È l’una

It’s 16:00/4 p.m. — Sono le sedici

You’ll also need to know what time of day you’re talking about. Whether you’re getting a coffee in the morning or having a late-night meal, you’ll need to properly express those times.

Instead of using a.m. or p.m., Italians state the exact part of the day. They use morning when the time is before noon, afternoon between noon and dinner time (around 5 p.m.), evening (between dinner time and 11 p.m.) and night (11 p.m. to early morning hours).

(In the) morning — (Di) mattina

(In the) afternoon — (Del) pomeriggio

(In the) evening — (Di) sera

(In the) night — (Di) notte

Between these times, you also have noon and midnight:

Noon — Mezzogiorno

Midnight — Mezzanotte

By using the singular è again, you can simply say what general time of day it is.

It’s the afternoon — È pomeriggio

It is midnight — È mezzanotte

By now you may be wondering, what about the times that aren’t on the hour? We’ve got you covered there, too. Here are some common expressions to remember:

A half hour — Una mezz’ora

A quarter hour — Un quarto d’ora

It’s a quarter to (hour) — Sono le (ora) meno un quarto

For example: It’s a quarter to 12. — Sono le dodici meno un quarto.

It’s a quarter past (hour) — Sono le (ora) e un quarto

For example: It’s a quarter past 7. – Sono le sette e un quarto.

It’s half past (hour) — Sono le (ora) e mezzo

For example: It’s half past 11. – Sono le undici e mezzo.

It’s (hour):(minute) — Sono le (ora) e (minuto)

For example: It’s 8:20. — Sono le otto e venti.

Telling Time, Asking for the Time and Making Plans

Now that you’ve got your time-telling vocabulary down, it’s time to work it into conversation (pun intended).

More often than not, you’ll find yourself asking “what time…?” Below are a few helpful “what time” phrases to have in your pocket!

(At) what time? — A che ora?

What time does it start? — A che ora inizia?

What time does it open? — A che ora apre?

What time does it close? — A che ora chiude?

What time is it? — Che ora è?

How long does it take? — Quanto tempo ci vuole?

How long does… last? — Quanto dura…?

What about when you’re making plans with friends? Whether you’re going out to eat, going shopping or just hanging out, you’ll need to agree on a time.

Here are some phrases to make sure you and your friends are in sync:

When are we meeting? — Quando ci incontriamo?

I’m late — Sono in ritardo

I’m early — Sono in anticipo

Around — Intorno a (alle) / Verso (le)

Now — Adesso / Ora

Right away/Immediately — Subito

On the dot — In punto

When you want to say that you do something at a particular time, you have to use the preposition (at) and combine it with the article l’ (the) or le (the). Since we use the article l’ for one o’clock, a combines with it to get all’. With all the other times, the preposition a combines with le to get alle.

I sleep at 1 a.m. — Dormo all’una

In the morning, I wake up at 7 a.m. Di mattina mi sveglio alle sette

We eat dinner at 5 p.m. (17:00) Ceniamo alle diciassette

I start work at 9 a.m. on the dot — Comincio a lavorare alle nove in punto

You now have all the tools you need to tell time in Italian! Let’s put them to use and get some practice.

Practice Telling Time in Italian

The best place to start your practice is with your numbers. Once you’ve perfected your number game, you can move on to practicing time-telling.

Here are three resources that’ll help you, in the order that we recommend you tackle them:

  • Quiz yourself on the numbers 1-100: Sprocle’s quiz will help you practice your numbers not just up to 60, but all the way to 100. So you’ll be able to name every number on the clock without a hitch.
  • Practice expressing time: This quiz, also from Sprocle, will help you nail down all the different vocabulary you’ve learned to express the time.
  • Hone your time-telling with flashcards: If you want a real challenge with the added bonus of fun and games, check out this Quizlet course. It helps you work on your vocabulary with flashcards, writing, spelling and hearing the words. Plus, it has some fun matching games when you want to shake it up a little!
  • For time/numbers flashcards with more context clues, there’s FluentU. It’s a language learning program based on watching authentic videos, that also helps you retain what you’ve learned through flashcards that use a spaced repetition system (SRS) and multimedia information to jog your memory.

Once you’ve sharpened your time-telling talent, you’ll never have to wonder when restaurants or shops close, when a show starts or when you need to line up for the tour you’re taking. You’ll always know “what time!”

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