Telling the time
To ask the time in Spanish, one uses the following question:
- ¿Qué hora es? (What time is it?)
A more polite way to ask is
- ¿Me puede decir la hora, por favor? (Could you please tell me what time it is?)
Once you know how to tell the numbers in Spanish and how the to be verb ser functions you can tell the time in Spanish with no difficulty. Because to express the time, the to be verb “ser” is used. Here, ser can have two versions: either “es” or “son”. As you know from an earlier lesson, “es” is used to refer to the singular third person, and son is used to refer to plural third person. Hence, “es” is used only to express sentences with one o’clock. For the rest, use “son”.
More specifically, the time is expressed by using es or son plus la or las respectively. Because, as stated above in the question you use “hora” which means hour in Spanish. It’s a feminine word hence it has the definite article “la” or “las”. Because the answer has to refer to hora, la/s is used in telling the time.
Let us start with some basic sentences.
- Es la una It’s one o’clock
- Son las dos It’s two o’clock
The exact times are expressed always in the same way:
- Son las tres (It’s three o’clock)
- Son las cuatro (It’s four o’clock)
- Son las cinco (It’s five o’clock) and son on.
To emphasize that it’s exactly two o’clock, you can use “en punto”:
- Son las dos en punto
To express the minutes, use “y”, which means “and” or “menos” which means minus.
- Es la una y cinco means it’s five past one.
- Es la una menos cinco it’s five to one.
To express half, use media. For example;
- Son las dos y media means it’s half past two.
To express quarter, use cuarto. For example;
- Son las dos y cuarto means it’s quarter past two.
- Son las dos menos cuarto means it’s quarter to two.
To express a.m. and p.m. de la mañana and de la tarde are used.
For example, 18:02 can be expressed as
- Son las seis y dos de la tarde
And 06:02 can be expressed as
- Son las seis y dos de la tarde
In short, de la mañana is in the morning and de la tarde means in the afternoon. But be careful, to use these two expressions, you need to give a specific time as above. Another similar expression is de la noche meaning in the evening.
There two other similar can be used to mean in the morning and in the afternoon at no specific time. They are por la mañana and por la tarde. Similarly, por la noche (in the evening) can be used. We’ll see these and other similar expressions in action in lesson adverbs of frequency, while talking about how to express daily activities in Spanish.
To tell the time approximately you can use “más o menos”, meaning more or less:
- Son las dos y media más o menos. It’s about half past two.
An important expression you need to know about telling the time is the a la/a las. It has the same function as the preposition “at” in English while telling the time. So,
- a la una is at one o’clock
- a las seis is at six o’clock
Two adverbs, después and antes are very useful in time-related conversations as well. These adverbs mean after and before repectively. For example;
- después de las nueve de la noche means after nine o’clock in the evening
- antes de las nueve de la noche means before nine o’clock in the evening
(la) hora hour
(el) segundo second
(el) minute minute
al mediodía at noon
a la medianoche at midnight
(el) tiempo time
a tiempo in time
tiempo libre free time
a tiempo complete full-time
hace cinco minutos five minutes ago
(el) reloj clock, watch
A veces at times