how to tell time in spanish

How to Tell Time in Spanish: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

“What time is it?”

That has got to be one of the most commonly asked questions in the world.

But even though it’s a very useful skill and excellent practice of numbers, learning how to tell time in Spanish is sometimes skipped by self-learners and classes.

In this post, we’ll teach you a bunch of time-related phrases and vocab so you can communicate effectively when you’re llegando tarde (running late) or de camino (on the way).  

Knowing how to tell the time is one of those skills you’ll use so much that eventually, you won’t even notice you’re doing it.

So let’s get started!

Contents

The Basics of Telling Time in Spanish

There are a few simple rules that all Spanish time tellers need to know, but first things first!

To ask what time it is, we simply say ¿Qué hora es?” This is definitely the most common way to ask for the time.

However, you’ll also hear:

¿Qué horas son? (What time is it?)

¿Tiene/s la hora? (Do you have the time?)

Then to tell someone what the time is, you’ll need to follow this formula:

Es/Son + la/las + [hour].

So if the time just happens to be on the hour, you might say:

Es la una. (It’s one o’clock.)

Son las dos. (It’s two o’clock.)

Son las tres. (It’s three o’clock.)

Son las cuatro. (It’s four o’clock.)

And if you need to review your numbers, you can do that here

Now let’s take a deeper look at the components of this formula:

  • Use ser, not estar. Though it may be counterintuitive, we always use ser to tell the time, not estar. Apparently, time is a permanent entity and therefore doesn’t want to be described using estar, which suggests temporariness.
  • Singular versus plural. We actually only use es for one o’clock and all times between 1:00 and 1:59: this is because one hour is singular. Use son for two o’clock and beyond.
  • Time is feminine. That’s why we say, “Son las seis” (It’s six o’clock), for example. Because time is feminine, you should always use las and la to describe time, never el or los.

Half Past and Quarter Past/to in Spanish 

Now that you’ve got the basics of telling the time when the clock strikes five (son las cinco), seven (son las siete) and eleven (son las once), you can move on to what happens when it’s half past, quarter past and quarter to the hour.

To say that it is half past the hour, use this formula:

Es/Son + [the hour] y media/treinta.

Son las dos y media. (It’s 2:30.)

Notice that it’s not y medio since hora is feminine.

To say that it’s quarter past the hour, use this:

Es/Son + [the hour] y cuarto/quince. 

Son las ocho y cuarto. (It’s 8:15.)

Note that cuarto does end in o because it means “quarter” and the word is masculine.

Once you get past the 30-minute mark, you need to use menos or para and refer to the hour that is approaching, just like when you use “quarter to” in English:

Es/Son + [the hour approaching] + menos cuarto.

Son las cinco menos cuarto. (It’s quarter to five.)

Es/Son + quarto + para + [the hour approaching].

Son quarto para las cinco. (It’s quarter to five.)

Adding Minutes in Spanish Time

To say any time between the hour and half past, this formula is the most common:

Es/Son + [the hour] + [number of minutes past the hour].

Son las dos diez. (It’s 2:10.)

You can also tell the time with different prepositions in the following formulas, however they are slightly less common:

Es/Son + [the hour] + y + [number of minutes past the hour].

Son las dos y diez. (It’s 2:10.)

Es/Son + [the hour] + con + [number of minutes past the hour].

Son las dos con diez. (It’s 2:10.)

Other numbers you might need are:

cinco (five)

diez (ten)

quince (fifteen)

veinte (twenty)

veinticinco (twenty-five)

treinta (thirty)

treinta y cinco (thirty-five)

cuarenta (forty)

cuarenta y cinco (forty-five)

cincuenta (fifty)

cincuenta y cinco (fifty-five)

Of course, you may also need once (eleven) and all the other numbers from 1-60, but time telling isn’t usually so precise.

You don’t need to use menos when you use the digital clock, but you should read the next section anyway. You can’t predict if the person you ask the time is going to respond using digital or analog time telling. Unless you are some sort of time traveler, that is, in which case we’re guessing you’ve got time figured out.

Using Menos and Para in Spanish Time

In English, when you get to the second half of the hour on an analog clock, you can start telling the time by how long is left until the next hour.

It’s quite forward-thinking if you think about it.

Spanish is almost the same as English in regard to this. We’ve also already seen an example of this with menos cuarto/cuarto para.

Here’s the formula for telling time with menos:

Es/Son + [the hour approaching] + menos + [minutes to the hour].

Son las cinco menos veinte. (It’s twenty to five.)

Son las ocho menos diez. (It’s ten to eight.)

The formula for using using para is similar, however we switch the hour approaching and the minutes to the hour:

Es/Son + [minutes to the hour] + para + [the hour approaching].

Son viente para las cinco. (It’s twenty to five.)

Son diez para las ocho. (It’s ten to eight.)

Spanish Vocabulary for Telling Time

SpanishEnglishExample
En puntoExactly, sharpNos encontramos a las ocho en punto.
(We're meeting at eight o'clock sharp.)
MediodíaMiddayDormió hasta mediodía el domingo.
(She slept until midday on Sunday.)
MedianocheMidnightLlegué de trabajar a medianoche.
(I got back from work at midnight.)
La madrugadaEarly morning, first thing in the morningMe desperté en la madrugada por la lluvia.
(I woke up first thing in the morning because of the rain.)
El amanecerDawn, sunriseMe encanta ver el amanecer solo.
(I love watching the sunrise alone.)
De la tardeIn the afternoonSon las seis de la tarde.
(It's 6 o'clock in the afternoon.)
De la mañanaIn the morningEl sol de la mañana es muy lindo.
(The sun in the morning is really pretty.)
La semana pasadaLast weekFui a ver mis papás la semana pasada.
(I went to see my parents last week.)
El mes pasadoLast monthEl mes pasado cumplí veintinueve años.
(Last month I turned 29.)
El año pasadoLast yearEmpecé a aprender francés el año pasado.
(I started learning French last year.)
AyerYesterdayAyer me contó que puede venir hoy.
(Yesterday she told me she can come today.)
AnteayerThe day before yesterdaySe fue anteayer con su amigo.
(He left the day before yesterday with his friend.)
MañanaTomorrowVienes mañana, ¿cierto?
(You're coming tomorrow, right?)
Pasado mañanaThe day after tomorrowSe supone que pasado mañana habrá tormenta.
(Apparently the day after tomorrow there's going to be a storm.)
Fin de semanaWeekendEste fin de semana no voy a hacer nada.
(This weekend I'm not going to do anything.)
FindeWeekend (short way of saying fin de semana)¿Qué haces en el finde, estás ocupado?
(What are you doing on the weekend, are you free?)
Día por medioEvery other dayTomo clases de baile día por medio.
(I take dance classes every other day.)
Semana por medioEvery other weekEste gato me viene a visitar semana por medio.
(This cat comes to visit me every other week.)
Mes por medioEvery other monthMe pide dinero mes por medio, estoy harta.
(He asks me for money every other month, I'm sick of it.)
Año por medioEvery other yearVamos de vacaciones año por medio si es que podemos.
(We go on vacation every other year if we can.)

Time Telling Quiz

Write these times in Spanish:

1. 1:05

2. 3:55

3. 11:15

4. 9:30

5. 9:00

6. 5:45

7. 6:50

Answer Key:

1. Es la una cinco.

2. Son las tres cincuenta y cinco. / Son las cuatro menos cinco. / Son cinco para las cuatro.

3. Son las once y cuarto/quince.

4. Son las nueve y media/treinta.

5. Son las nueve.

6. Son las cinco cuarenta y cinco. / Son las seis menos cuarto. / Son quarto para las seis.

7. Son las seis cincuenta. / Son las siete menos diez. / Son diez para las siete.

How to Practice Telling Time in Spanish

  • Use online games. You can test yourself using this online game—or with this one or this one, which are time-telling games of various levels with reviews to test your newly learned skills.
  • Ask your Spanish-speaking friends to test you.
    To practice beforehand, try listening to Spanish podcasts or watching some Spanish videos. The language learning program FluentU actually has authentic media clips—covering everything from telenovelas (soap operas) to news reports—with interactive subtitles that show you how native speakers naturally communicate time (among other things).
  • Integrate time telling into your regular life. So every time you look at your watch, phone or tablet in your normal English-speaking life, you could say the time aloud in Spanish.

    You could even set up an alert on your phone to remind you to do this, perhaps asking “¿Qué hora es?” until you get into the habit of doing this regularly. A more low-tech version of this would be to put a sticky note next to your alarm clock.

  • If someone asks for the time, say it in both languages. Warning: this one maybe is best done with close friends, as strangers on the bus might not appreciate your bilingual time-telling skills!

 

So there you have it. Now you know how to tell the time in Spanish! Give it a whirl right away: what time is it now?

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