How to tell the time: Italian grammar lesson 15

Summary

Unlock the secrets of Italian time-telling with our guide! From asking the current hour to expressing minutes past and to, you’ll master the clock like a native. 🕒🇮🇹

  • Asking for Time: Curious about the hour? Use “Che ora è?” or “Che ore sono?” Both mean “What time is it?” but with a charming Italian twist. 🤔⏰
  • “At What Time” Queries: Making plans? Ask “A che ora” to pinpoint the exact time. “A che ora vai a scuola?” translates to “At what time do you go to school?” 📅🏫
  • Midday & Midnight: Keep it simple at noon and midnight with “È mezzogiorno” and “È mezzanotte.” No AM or PM fuss here! 🌞🌜
  • 24-Hour Format: Italians love precision! Don’t be surprised to hear “Sono le 21” instead of “9 PM.” It’s the 24-hour clock at its finest. ⏲️👌
  • Minutes Matter: From “e cinque” (5 past) to “meno dieci” (10 to), expressing minutes is a breeze. Whether it’s “5:55” or “6:00,” you’ll be on point. 🕔👍
  • Flexibility is Key: Feel free to say “sono le undici e cinquanta” or “sono le dodici meno dieci” for “10 to 12.” Both are perfectly acceptable! 🆗🕚

My thoughts

Knowing how to tell the time is important in all languages. There are a few Italian phrases you’ll find very useful when you want to tell the time or when you want to ask what time it is.

Let’s get started!

How to use useful questions for telling time?

Interestingly, when we talk about time in Italian we talk about hours and not about time.

For this reason, we can use the singular or the plural. Both options are correct.

Che ora è?

What time is it? (Literally what hour is it?)

Che ore sono?

What time is it? (Literally what hours are they?)

If we want to ask “at what time” we use the singular form:

A che ora vai a scuola?

At what time do you go to school?

How to answer questions about time?

We use the singular form è only when we talk about 1 AM or 1 PM, midday or midnight.

We don’t always specify whether we’re talking about since sometimes it’s pretty obvious:

  • del mattino in the morning
  • del pomeriggio in the afternoon
  • di sera in the evening
  • di notte in the night

Also, in English, people tend to say AM or PM while in Italian, it’s not that common.

Have a look at the following sentences:

È l’una del pomeriggio.

It’s 1 in the afternoon.

È l’una di notte.

It’s 1 in the morning.

È l’una e mezza.

It’s 1:30 (am or pm, depending on the time of the day).

È mezzogiorno.

It’s midday.

È mezzanotte.

It’s midnight.

For the other hours, we use the plural form of essere, sono. Sometimes we use the 24-hour format especially when we write and in formal contexts, so you might hear people say 17 instead of 5 or 21 instead of 9.

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Here are some examples:

Sono le 5 (cinque) del pomeriggio.

It’s 5 in the afternoon.

Sono le 2 (due).

It’s 2 (AM or PM, depending on the time of the day).

Sono le 7 (sette).

It’s 2 (AM or PM, depending on the time of the day).

Sono le 21 (ventuno).

It’s 9 PM.

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

How to tell the minutes?

Let’s now learn how to tell the minutes:

  • 5:05 – Sono le cinque e cinque.
  • 5:10 – Sono le cinque e dieci.
  • 5:15 – Sono le cinque e un quarto.
  • 5:20 – Sono le cinque e venti.
  • 5:25 – Sono le cinque e venticinque.
  • 5:30 – Sono le cinque e mezza.
  • 5:35 – Sono le cinque e trentacinque.
  • 5:40 – Sono le sei meno venti.
  • 5:45 – Sono le sei meno un quarto.
  • 5:50 – Sono le sei meno dieci.
  • 5:55 – Sono le sei meno cinque.

Just so you know, you can always just read the time and say sono le undici e cinquanta instead of sono le dodici meno dieci.

You’ll be referring to exactly the same time. Both ways are correct.

It’s the same in English: you can either say, it’s eleven fifty or it’s ten to twelve.

How to use useful questions for telling time?

When we talk about time in Italian we talk about hours so we can use either the singular or the plural.

How to answer questions about time?

We use the singular form "è" only when we talk about 1 AM or 1 PM and we we use the plural form "sono" for the rest.

Italian word of the day
passeggiata
Example
Hai voglia di fare una passeggiata?
Do you feel like going for a walk?
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2 Responses

    1. Ciao Bill!

      We’re currently replacing all quizzes in the grammar notes so you can answer in Italian.

      We apologize for the inconvenience.

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