9 Telling Time

To ask / say what time it is:

The verb “ser” can be used both to ask and say what time it is. Literally one asks “what is the hour?” (la hora = the hour). Since the word “la hora” is singular, the singular form of ser (es) is frequently used to ask the question, and to answer when it’s one o’clock (one = singular):

¿Qué hora es? What time is it?
Es la una. It’s one (o’clock).

However, once it’s two or later (plural numbers), then the plural form of ser (son las) is used to say what time it is:

Son las dos de la tarde. It's two pm.
Son las seis de la mañana. It's four am.
Son las nueve de la noche. It's nine pm.

Expressing AM / PM:

The concept of “am” is expressed by using “de la mañana” and “pm” by using either “de la tarde” or “de la noche” for when it’s dark out.

Alternate ways to ask what time it is:

Since the answer to the question “¿qué hora es?” frequently begins with “son las…” (except for 1:00), many native speakers will often use the pural form “son” in the question instead of the singular “es” form: “¿qué horas son”. Another alternate way of asking what time it is would be to say “¿qué hora tiene?” (what time do you have?).

To summarize: three common ways to ask what time it is:

  • ¿Qué hora es?
  • ¿Qué horas son?
  • ¿Qué hora tiene?

To express time after the hour:

In Spanish when it’s later than a specific hour “on the dot”, minutes are added by using “y + (number of minutes)”. In English, we sometimes use phrases such as “it’s twelve ten” for 12:10, or “it’s 20 after eight” for 8:20. In Spanish the equivalents would be:

Son las doce y diez. It's twelve ten. 12:10
Sons las ocho y veinte. It's twenty after eight. 8:20

To express “till”:

There are a couple of ways to express “till” in Spanish. One way is to use the hour that’s coming up, then “menos + (number of minutes)”:

Son las once menos diez. 10:50
(literally: it’s eleven less ten)
Es la una menos veinte. 12:40
(literally: it’s one less twenty)

Another way to express “till” may be more common: “son + (number of minutes) + para la(s) + (up-coming hour)”:

Son quince para las nueve. 8:45
(it’s fifteen till 9)
Son veinticinco para las diez. 9:35
(it’s twenty-five till 10)
Son cinco para la una. 12:55
(it’s five till 1)

Practical expressions related to telling time:

The phrases “y cuarto” can be used instead of “y quince” to express “quarter past the hour”. Similarly, “y media” can be used instead of “y treinta” to express “half past the hour”:

Son las tres y cuarto. Son las tres y quince 3:15
Es la una y media. Es la una y treinta 1:30

The following expressions are also commonly used:

Es (el) mediodía. It's noon
Es (la) medianoche. It's midnight
Son las siete en punto. It's seven "on the dot"/"sharp"

To ask / say what time something is at:

To ask what time something is at, use “¿A qué hora es el/la…?”. If you’re asking at what time someone does something, use “A qué hora + (verb)”:

¿A qué hora es la clase de español? What time is Spanish at?
¿A qué hora es el concierto? What time is the concert (at)?
¿A qué hora trabajas? What time do you work?

To answer the above questions, use “a la(s)”:

La clase es a las diez. The class is at ten.
El concierto es a las siete. The concert is at seven pm.
Trabajo a la una. I work at one.


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First Year Spanish 1 by Paul Eckhardt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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