Telling the Time in Italian: Essential Vocabulary, Phrases and More

Whether you need to make plans with your family, get to the airport to catch a flight or make a dinner reservation, knowing how to tell the time is essential in any language!

In this post, you’ll find everything you need to tell the time in Italian, from asking for and giving the time, to important numbers and essential phrases to talk about time.

The clock is ticking—let’s get started!

Contents

How to Tell the Time in Italian

To tell the time in Italian you’ll begin with sono le, followed by the time. The exception of this is when it is 1 o’clock—in that case, use the singular è. For example:

Sono le otto — It’s 8 o’clock

Sono le undici — It’s 11 o’clock 

È l’una — It’s 1 o’clock 

Telling the Exact Time

To tell the exact time in Italian, you’ll need to learn how to say the numbers 0 through 60 in Italian. We’ll go over that in more detail later in this post!

Use this formula to state the time:

Here are some examples of this formula in use, remembering that the number “one” gets a slightly different treatment:

Sono le otto e venti — It’s 8:20 

Sono le dodici e diciassette — It’s 12:17

È l’una e sei — It’s 1:06

Telling Time to / Past the hour

Like in English, there are some times that have special terms. You can use either the term or the exact number, the same way that you can say either “half an hour” or “30 minutes.”

Here are the key terms to know for telling times to and from the hour:

Check out some examples:

Sono le dodici meno un quarto — It’s a quarter to 12 

Sono le undici e mezzo — It’s half past 11 

Sono le sette e un quarto — It’s a quarter past 7 

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 start with the basics: 1-12.

1 — Uno

2 — Due

3 — Tre

4 — Quattro

5 — Cinque

6 — Sei

7 — Sette

8 — Otto

9 — Nove

10 — Dieci

11 — Undici

12 — Dodici

Take some time to learn the numbers through 60. Learn more in this article:

The 24-hour Clock

It’s important to note that Italy, like much of Europe, uses the 24-hour clock format.

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).

Here are some examples:

Sono le sedici — It’s 4 p.m. (16:00)

Sono le ventidue — It’s 10 p.m. (22:00)

Using Prepositions with the Time

When you want to say that you do something at a particular time, you have to use the preposition a (at) and combine it with the article l’ (the) or le (the).

Since we use the article l’ for 1 o’clock, it combines with a to become all’. With all the other times, the preposition a combines with le to become alle. Check out the following examples:

Incontriamoci a pranzo all’una — Let’s meet for lunch at 1 p.m.

Il caffè apre alle sette del mattino — The cafe opens at 7 a.m. 

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

How to Ask for the Time in Italian

To ask what time it is, you can say either of the following:

There’s no difference between these two phrases, and you can use them interchangeably.

The word ora can be translated as “now” and isn’t used to mean “time” in other contexts. So if you want to talk about time in a more general sense, you would use one of the following words:

Tempo is used to describe the passing of time, the seasons and tenses, and  volta which refers to the repetition of times, as in “one time” or “sometimes.”

Times of the Day in Italy

Note that Italians don’t use a.m. or p.m. Instead, they state the exact part of the day.

They use morning when the time is before noon, afternoon between noon and dinner time (around 6 p.m.), evening (between dinner time and 11 p.m.) and night (11 p.m. to early morning hours).

More Italian Vocabulary for Telling Time

You’ve already seen some of these in use in this post, but here are some key vocabulary to know:

Now you have everything you need to begin talking about time in Italian, you can start practicing these phrases by incorporating them into your everyday Italian vocabulary. Try booking an appointment, arranging a meal out with your friends or even writing down your routine in a diary! 

You could also try searching for this vocabulary in FluentU’s contextual video dictionary to see it used in context by native Italian speakers.

 

So there you have it!

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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