Are you always the last one to show up at the party?
Do you find yourself repeatedly promising to make it on time, yet always end up walking in late?
Don’t worry; you’re not alone.
In fact, there are many cultures that have the same easy-going outlook on time as you do.
Maybe you’re too busy appreciating the here and now to make it to the next event on time. Maybe you just aren’t all that worried about punctuality.
Either way, both Portugal and Brazil take a relaxed attitude towards being on time.
If you want to know more about punctuality in these countries, and also simply want to master talking about time in Portuguese, this article is for you!
Why Learn to Tell Time in Portuguese?
Our lives are built around schedules. This is especially true when traveling. Whether it’s knowing when to check out from the hotel, what time the museum opens or what time to meet some new friends at the local pé sujo (dive bar), the success of a trip rests on being aware of the time, and its use culturally.
There’s another, just as awesome reason to learn to talk about time in Portuguese. Asking the time is the easiest ice-breaker ever!
Chances are, as a Portuguese learner, you’ll find yourself wanting to converse with native speakers. Simply walking up to someone and asking them the time is a great way to open up a conversation, make some new friends or maybe even meet a significant other.
This might be your chance to meet one of those famously beautiful and charismatic Brazilians.
What Does “Relaxed Time” Mean in Portuguese-speaking Countries?
If you don’t want to find yourself alone at a bar and wondering where all of your new friends are, it’s important to know a bit about the cultural use of time in Portuguese-speaking countries. In both Brazil and Portugal, it’s normal for people to be late. This varies widely depending on the type of commitment, though.
Parties and Social Events
These are definitely the most relaxed type of commitments. It’s totally normal for an event to be scheduled for a certain time, and for guests to show up two to three hours late! This is true for most birthday parties, churrasco (barbeques) and other types of social events.
However, when in doubt, just ask the host what time they expect people to show up.
Business, Medical and Professional Appointments
These types of appointments are more rigid than social events. For some businesses, being 15 minutes late is acceptable. Others consider this reprehensible. For medical appointments, you’ll often be asked to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled appointment time.
Again, when in doubt, it’s always better to confirm.
Chronically Late? Get on Time in Portuguese with Key Phrases and Vocabulary for Telling Time
The very first step towards telling time in Portuguese is getting a good grip on Portuguese numbers. If you’re feeling ambitious today, why don’t you give a go at learning 1 to 1,000!
After you know your numbers (at least from one to 12), you’ll then want to learn the following terms to talk about time in Portuguese:
Remember, in Portuguese, each noun has a gender.
For the above nouns and most others, an o at the end indicates it’s masculine, and an a indicates it’s feminine.
Now all that’s left (at least for this section!) is to take your newly mastered numbers, combine it with your new time-related vocabulary and enjoy a song by one of my favorite Brazilian bands!
How to Ask for the Time in Portuguese
Like all communication, talking about time is a two-way street. You have to be able to tell the time, but be able to ask for the time.
Here are a few common ways that people ask what time it is in Portuguese.
Common ways to ask what time is it?
Que horas são?
Quantas horas são?
Less common/colloquial ways to ask what time is it?
Que horas que é agora?
Que horas tem?
Note: The last two are colloquial ways to ask the time, and while you may hear them spoken (especially in Rio de Janeiro), it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever see them written.
How to Actually Tell Time in Portuguese
Conjugate the Verb Ser
Did you recognize the verb from the previous section? Both são and é are conjugations of the irregular verb ser. When using this verb to tell time, all you really need to know is whether the hour is singular or plural.
When singular use é:
É uma hora. (It’s one o’clock.)
If the hour is plural (aka anything other than one o’clock), use são:
São quatro horas. (It’s four o’clock.)
São oito horas. (It’s eight o’clock.)
Often Portuguese-speaking countries use a 24-hour clock to tell time. In this case, for times after 12 pm, you’d add 12 to the hour.
São dezesseis horas. (It’s sixteen o’clock. → It’s 4 pm.)
São vinte horas. (It’s twenty o’clock. → It’s 8 pm. )
This 24-hour clock is often used in formal situations and in written Portuguese, such as when posting store hours.
Get Specific! How to Tell Time by the Minute
When you want to be more specific, there are plenty of ways to tell time by the minute, half-hour, quarter-hour, etc.
To do this, simply add e and the number of minutes:
São quatro horas e quinze. (It’s four fifteen.)
You can also leave off the horas as in:
São quatro e quinze. (It’s four fifteen.)
Let’s have a look at a few more examples:
São oito e dez. (It’s eight ten.)
São cinco e quarenta e cinco. (It’s five forty-five.)
São nove e trinta. (It’s nine thirty.)
While it’s totally acceptable to say nove e trinta, more often people will say e meia instead of trinta.
São nove e meia. (It’s nine thirty.)
São sete e meia. (It’s seven thirty)
On the other hand, if the time is exactly on the hour, you can emphasize this by using em ponto.
São onze horas em ponto. (It’s eleven o’clock exactly. Literally, this means, “it’s eleven o’clock on the dot.”)
Finally, sometimes in Portuguese, when the time is nearing the next hour, people will count backward from that hour.
This is similar to English when people say “five to nine.” This is done by using the phrase para as as in:
São cinco (minutos) para as nove (horas). (It’s five (minutes) to nine (o’clock).)
In this case, using the words minutos and horas is completely optional.
Let’s check out some more examples:
São quinze para as três. (It’s fifteen to three.)
São dez para as seis. (It’s ten to six)
Other Super Practical Vocabulary to Use While Telling Time
Chances are when traveling to a Portuguese-speaking country and talking about the time you’re going to want to be able to put everything into context. You’ll want to be able to schedule that forro lesson for tomorrow afternoon or tell a new friend to drop by for caipirinhas at 10 pm.
Here are some great words to help you achieve that context.
Ao meio-dia (At noon)
A meia-noite (At midnight)
Da manhã (In/Of the morning)
Da tarde (In/Of the afternoon)
Da noite (In/Of the night)
Da madrugada (In/Of the early morning, before sunrise)
Use the words das and às to indicate starting and ending time.
O jantar começa às nove horas da noite. (The dinner starts at nine at night.)
O evento vai das três às dez. (The event goes from three till ten.)
You now know all you need to proficiently tell time in Portuguese.
So, get out there and use your new icebreaker to start conversations, make friends and travel on towards fluency!