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Telling Time in Spanish

Let's talk about the time! Are you ready to learn how to tell time in Spanish? Do you know how to say "What time is it?" in Spanish?


telling time in spanish


Well, first, for the purposes of this lesson, we invite you to review the following components:


- The verb ser (to be)

- The definite articles for feminine nouns

- The numbers from one to fifty-nine


In addition to these, we will examine some useful expressions and vocabulary that will help you to learn how to tell time in Spanish. Let's get started.


Asking the Time: How Do You Say "What Time Is It?" in Spanish?

There are two common ways to ask for the time in Spanish. Let's take a look:


¿Cómo preguntamos la hora?

How do we ask what time it is?

Excelente pregunta.

Excellent question.

Diremos, "¿Qué hora es?"

We'll say, "What time is it?"

Captions 47-49, Español para principiantes - La hora

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¿Me podría decir qué horas son?

Could you tell me what time it is?

Caption 74, Carlos explica - Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Conjugación

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As you can see, the difference between these two questions is that the first is singular while the second is plural. It is important to note that the singular form (¿Qué hora es?) is preferred, and we thus encourage you to choose it when asking for the time in Spanish.


Telling Time in Spanish

Now that you know how to say "What time is it?" it is time (no pun intended!) to learn how to tell time in Spanish! The formula is quite simple:


To be + article + hour + additional information


Let's focus on each of these variables.


How to Use the Verb Ser (to Be) for Telling Time in Spanish


Just as we say "It's one o'clock" or "It is seven forty-three" in English, we must also use the verb ser (to be) when telling time in Spanish. Interestingly, although the third person singular form es would be the Spanish equivalent of "it's" or "it is," due to the fact that we are referring to the plural noun horas (hours), Spanish almost always utilizes the plural form of ser, or son. As you see below, the only exception to this rule is when talking about one o'clock, in which case the singular form es is indeed applied. 


Son las doce.

It's twelve o'clock.

Es la una.

It's one o'clock.

Son las dos.

It's two o'clock.

Captions 16-18, Español para principiantes - La hora

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Using the Proper Article for Telling Time


Similarly, since horas is feminine and plural, the feminine plural definite article las must accompany it. Once again, one o'clock is the only exception with which we use the singular feminine definite article la. Looking once more at the previous example, let's focus on these definite articles:


Son las doce.

It's twelve o'clock.

Es la una.

It's one o'clock.

Son las dos.

It's two o'clock.

Captions 16-18, Español para principiantes - La hora

 Play Caption


Learning the Numbers


We've arrived at the point in our Spanish time-telling formula where "it's time" to insert a number! In case you haven't learned the numbers in Spanish or need some brushing up on them, we would like to refer you to this very useful, past Yabla lesson (noting again that for telling time in Spanish, it would only be necessary to know the numbers up through fifty-nine).


Let's Start with the Basics


Applying the principles we've just spoken about, let's take a look at some very straightforward examples of telling time in Spanish, prior to getting to that "additional information" we spoke about:


Son las diez.

It's ten o'clock. 


Es la una.

It's one o'clock. 


Son las veinte.

It's eight p.m. 


Wait... what?! Doesn't Son las veinte mean "It's twenty o'clock?" Some Spanish-speaking countries employ military time in which the numbers from one to twelve are utilized for the hours from one a.m. to twelve p.m., and the numbers thirteen through twenty-four are used to refer to the hours from one p.m. to twelve a.m. So, you might hear, “Son las trece” (literally "It’s thirteen") in lieu of “Es la una” to say that it’s one p.m., whereas “Son las veinte” (It’s twenty) would mean, “It’s eight p.m.” 


When not speaking in military time, expressions like de la mañana (in the morning), de la tarde (in the afternoon/evening), or de la noche (at night) are sometimes included to help one distinguish the exact time. Alternatively, “a.m.” and “p.m.” can be used just like in English. Let's look at some examples:


Son las diez de la manana.

It's ten in the morning.


Son las diez de la noche.

It's ten at night.


Son las cinco a.m. 

It's five a.m


Son las cinco p.m. 

It's five p.m


Additional Information for Telling Time in Spanish

Up until now, all of the times we have spoken about have been very simple and straightforward, including only the hours without any minutes. So, how do we talk about more complex times in Spanish? 


One of the simplest ways to express the minutes after an hour in Spanish is by adding the word (and). Then, just like in English, we would insert the particular number of minutes, as follows: 


Son las once y cinco.

It's five after eleven (or It's eleven o-five). 


Son las cinco y cincuenta y siete.

It's five fifty-seven.


Sometimes, the y before the minutes is omitted. So, you might hear simply Son las cinco cincuenta y siete. In yet another alternative construction, con (with) might take the place of y to get: Son las siete con cincuenta y siete.


In addition to saying the specific minutes, there are a few, extremely useful Spanish expressions that one should memorize in order to effectively talk about time in Spanish, which are as follows: y cuarto ("quarter past/after" or "fifteen"), y media ("half past" or "thirty"), menos cuarto ("quarter to/till" or "forty-five") and para ("to/till"). Let's take a look at some examples:


¿Sabe qué hora es?

Do you know what time is it?

Ehm... Son las nueve menos cuarto.

Um... It's quarter to nine.

Captions 9-10, Español para principiantes - Saludos y encuentros

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Although the literal translation for Son las nueve menos cuarto would be "It's nine minus fifteen," this would typically be expressed in English with either "It's quarter to nine" or "It's eight forty-five." That said, just as there are different ways of describing the same time in English, the same holds true in Spanish. Alternatives include: Son las ocho y cuarenta y cinco (literally "it's eight forty-five") and falta un cuarto para las nueve (another manner of saying "it's quarter to nine"). Let's look at these additional possibilities in action in the following Yabla clip:


Nueve cuarenta y cinco.

Nine forty-five.

Otra manera de decir esta hora sería:

Another way to say this time would be:

Cuarto para las diez.

Quarter to ten.

Captions 32-34, Aprendiendo con Karen - El tiempo

 Play Caption


Let's take a look at a couple of additional examples of the aforementioned phrases:


Y practico Tae Bo todas las tardes, de siete y media a ocho y media.

And I do Tae Bo every afternoon from seven thirty to eight thirty.

Caption 21, Patricia Marti - Diversión y Ejercicio

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Seis quince.

Six fifteen.

Otra manera de decir esta hora sería:

Another way of saying this time would be:

Seis y cuarto.

Quarter after six.

Captions 26-28, Aprendiendo con Karen - El tiempo

 Play Caption


You will notice that in the second example, seis quince is another, more literal way to say "quarter after six," and the literal equivalent of the English "six fifteen." And, as we spoke about earlier, although one could say seis y quince, the has been omitted.


As you can see, there are numerous ways of talking about time in Spanish, some of which might be preferred in specific regions or with specific individuals. We invite you to review these concepts and terminology in order to find your favorite way of telling time in Spanish. 


We hope you've enjoyed this lesson, see you next "time"! And please don't forget to leave us your comments and suggestions


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Legenda 34, 33, 32, 28, 27, 26

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