Telling Time.

These are the times of the day that we follow in the U.K.

They are flexible and may vary in different parts of the world.
The time of day can be measured using either the 12-hour clock or the 24-hour clock.
Clock Morning Afternoon Evening Night
12 hour 5 am – 12 pm 12 pm to 5 pm 5 pm to 10 pm 10 pm to 5 am
24 hour 05.00 – 12.00 12.01 to 17.00 17.01 to 22.00 22.01 – 05.00

(An abbreviation for the word hour in English is simply hr.)
Morning is the period of time between dawn (also known as daybreak or sunrise) and
12 noon (also known as mid-day). Morning is followed by afternoon, evening and then night.



 

12 HOUR CLOCK

With the 12-hour clock we use am and pm to refer to morning and afternoon.

  • am (ante meridiem = before noon) is from 12 midnight until 12 noon:
    • 5.05am says that it’s 5 minutes past 5 in the morning.
  • pm (post meridiem = after noon) is from 12 noon until 12 midnight.
    • 2.45pm is a quarter to three in the afternoon.

NOTE: There has always been a lot of confusion about whether midnight is am or pm, as 12 o’clock is neither ante-meridian nor post-meridian. For this reason it is advisable to specify 12 mid-day or 12 midnight.
See meridiem vs. meridian for the exact meaning.

 

With the 12 hour clock, there are two ways of telling the time:
  • We can say the hours first and then the minutes. For example: 8.30 is eight thirty, or 4.10 is four ten.
  • We can say the minutes first and then the hours: 6.15 is a quarter past six, or 7.40 is twenty to eight.

When it is fifteen minutes before the hour we say ‘a quarter to the hour’.
When it is fifteen minutes after the hour we say ‘a quarter past’.
When it’s thirty minutes after the hour we say just ‘half past’. (We don’t say ‘a half past’.)

This way is a little more complicated, because we have to learn how to say to the hour and past the hour, but it’s the system we have always used in the U.K. Nowadays however, it is slowly being replaced by the 24 hour clock.

When the time is exactly on the hour, we use the word o’clock: For example: 11 am – It’s eleven o’clock exactly or, it’s exactly eleven o’clock.
When the time is just close to the hour, we use the word about: For example: 2.02 pm – It’s about two o’clock, (it’s 2 minutes past two).

NOTE: We don’t usually say o’clock when we are adding am or pm. For example:
We wouldn’t say 10 am o’clock – we would just say 10 am, or 10 o’clock in
the morning
.  (For a full explanation see Lesson A1.5 -Talking about Time)

 

24-HOUR CLOCK

With the 24-hour clock we don’t need to say am or pm, and we don’t say o’clock.

  • 2 o’clock in the afternoon becomes 14.00, or fourteen hundred (hours).

To change from the 12 hour clock to the 24 hour clock, just add 12 to each of the hours past noon, so that 1pm becomes 13.00; 2pm becomes 14.00; 3pm becomes 15.00; etc.

The 24-hour clock always uses 4 digits; so for any time before 10:00am, an ‘0‘ (zero) is placed at the beginning. (In the U.K. we tend to say ‘0h’ not zero. In the U.S.A. however, the word zero is always used.)
For example:

  • 01.00 = 1 am = 0h one hundred.
  • 06.00 = 6 am = 0h six hundred.
  • 12.00 = 12 noon = Twelve hundred.
  • 23.59 = 1 minute to midnight = Twenty-three fifty-nine.
  • Midnight is usually written as 00.00, but occasionally you may see 24.00.

 

HOW TO ASK THE TIME OF DAY.

 

  • Excuse me, can you tell me the time, please?
  • Excuse me, do you have the time?
  • What time do you have? (Meaning what time do you see on your watch).
  • What time is it? This is easier to say, but is not very polite. It’s always better to say please.
    In English we say please and thank you many, many times every day.

 

Related Content:

British Council – Topic Time
The Language Guide – Telling Time, Audio Help

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