Knowing how to talk about time is one of the most basic skills we need when we speak in any language. Whether we’re catching a bus or a flight, we’re heading to a movie or a concert, or we need to be on time for a meeting or an appointment, knowing how to tell time in Spanish will surely come in handy in so many everyday situations.
In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know about telling time in Spanish. We’ll start off with how to ask the right questions about the time, along with some standard responses. We’ll look at the right Spanish verbs we use to talk about time in Spanish, along with the other grammatical rules like when to use the singular or the plural for the different hours of the day.
We’ll talk about the different parts of the day from morning to night, and look at our options for speaking about the 24-hour cycle of hours. In short, we’ll cover everything from five to noon, to quarter past midnight. And of course we’ll provide plenty of examples along the way. Now let’s get started!
Asking the Time in Spanish: ¿Qué hora es?
The English word “time” has a handful of translations depending on the context, but when we’re talking about the time of day in Spanish we always use la hora. In this use, la hora translates to English both as the time, or the hour. La hora will also be the implied subject in any of our replies when we respond with different times in Spanish, as we’ll see in subsequent sections.
For now, let’s take a look at the most common questions for asking the time in Spanish:
|What time is it?||¿Qué hora es?|
|What’s the time?||¿Cuál es la hora?|
|Could you tell me what time it is?||¿Podrías decirme qué hora es?|
|Could you tell me the time, please?||¿Podrías decirme la hora, por favor?|
|Would you mind telling me the time?||¿Te molestaría decirme la hora?|
Before we go into the right formulations on how to say time in Spanish, let’s just cover a few of the polite responses for the latter few questions from above:
|With pleasure, Gladly||Con gusto|
|Of course, Sure||Por supuesto|
|It’s not a problem, No problem||No es molestía|
Asking when: ¿A qué hora es?
Whereas in the previous section we were strictly asking about the current time, here we’re asking when something is happening. In English the preposition at is often optional, while in Spanish it is necessary to include the equivalent a for both questions and answers:
- [At] what time are your parents coming? – ¿A qué hora vienen tus padres?
- [At] what time is the dentist appointment? – ¿A qué hora es la cita con el dentista?
- [At] what time does the movie start? – ¿A qué hora comienza la película?
- [At] what time is the party? – ¿A qué hora es la fiesta?
When talking about when something is happening, we always need to use the preposition a in Spanish. This is common enough in English as well with at:
- The appointment is at three. – La cita es a las tres.
- The movie starts at seven. – La película comienza a las siete.
- The party starts at nine. – La fiesta comienza a las nueve.
Telling Time in Spanish
Now that you know how to ask for the time in Spanish, we’re ready to go into all the details of how to tell time in Spanish. We’ll start with the whole hours and then get into the minutes, including how to refer to fractions of hours. From a grammatical perspective we’ll look at which verbs we use, as well as the definite articles and how we treat singular and plural hours.
O’clock: En punto
The Spanish word for o’clock is en punto. Like in English, this is often omitted depending on how formal you want to get. Other translations for en punto could be sharp or on the dot. Let’s see these options in action:
- 1:00 – Es la una en punto. – It’s one o’clock. – It’s one sharp. – It’s one on the dot.
- 1:00 – Es la una. – It’s one.
Articles and plurals for the hours
You may have noticed the definite article la in the previous examples, which you might be tempted to translate literally into English as “it is the one o’clock.” In fact, the article must always be included when we say times in Spanish.
For any time as of two o’clock, we refer to the hours in plural. We do this both with the verb conjugation, and with our definite article. Remember that our implied subject is always la hora or las horas, which is why we use the feminine definite articles la or las. Let’s see this with a few more examples:
- 1:00 – Es la una en punto. – It’s one o’clock.
- 2:00 – Son las dos en punto. – It’s two o’clock.
- 4:00 – Son las cuatro. – It’s four.
- 7:00 – Son las siete en punto. – It’s seven o’clock.
- 11:00 – Son las once. – It’s eleven.
Adding minutes to the time in Spanish with y (or without)
Now that we’ve seen how to state the time by hours, we can start adding the minutes. In Spanish we just add them after the hour, usually with the word and: y. Note that in familiar situations, Spanish speakers sometimes skip the y. Let’s see this with some examples:
- 1:13 – Es la una y trece. – Es la una trece. – It’s one thirteen.
- 1:25 – Es la una y veinticinco. – Es la una veinticinco. – It’s one twenty-five.
- 1:50 – Es la una y cincuenta. – Es la una cincuenta. – It’s one fifty.
- 2:10 – Son las dos y diez. – Son las dos diez. – It’s two ten.
- 7:46 – Son las siete y cuarenta y seis. – Son las siete cuarenta y seis. – It’s seven forty-six.
Minutes before the hour using Para
In the last section we saw how we say the minutes after the hour using y. For the second half of the hour, however, it is more common to say the time in Spanish by stating how many minutes are left until the next hour. In this construction we use para, just as you’d use to, until, or before in English.
Note that the definite article stays with the hour, not the minutes.
- 12:50 – Son diez para la una. – It’s ten to one.
- 1:40 – Son veinte para las dos. – It’s twenty until two.
- 7:55 – Son cinco para las ocho. – It’s five to eight.
- 9:59 – Es uno para las diez. – It’s one minute before ten.
Using fractions of hours: Cuarto y Media
Similarly to English, we also regularly use hour fractions when telling time in Spanish. For quarter past and half past we say y cuarto and y media, while for quarter to we say un cuarto para:
1:15 – Es la una y cuarto. – It’s quarter past one.
3:30 – Son las tres y media. – It’s half past three.
6:45 – Es un cuarto para las siete. – It’s a quarter to seven.
Using the verb Ser for time: Es and Son
Based on our examples, you may have already noticed this basic rule for talking about the time: we use the verb ser. As we saw above, we always omit the subject when we’re talking about time.
We conjugate ser in its singular form es for any time between 1:00 and 1:59, and in its plural form son for all the other hours. As we saw in the last two sections though, when we’re talking about minutes before the hour the conjugation needs to match the number of minutes, while whenever we refer to fractions of hours, the conjugation is in singular form es to match the fraction.
Sometimes we can use ser in its infinitive form if we conjugate another verb when talking about the time in Spanish:
- Pueden ser las dos en punto. – It may be two o’clock.
We also often use the subjunctive conjugations sea and sean when we’re talking about possibilities:
- Puede que sea a las cinco. – It might be at five.
- Quizá sean las once y once. – Maybe it’s eleven eleven.
Using the verb Tener for having the time
Similarly to English, we can also refer to time in Spanish using the verb to have: tener. Using this verb is fairly informal, but still quite common:
- ¿Qué hora tienes? – What time do you have?
- Tengo las nueve y una. – I have nine oh one.
- Mi reloj tenía las ocho y cincuenta y nueve. – My watch had eight fifty-nine.
Time in Spanish: Periods of the Day
Now that you know how to tell the time, we’re ready to start talking about the different periods of day in Spanish. For the most part, you’ll recognize the same divisions as their English equivalents, though they’re not exactly the same. In fact, apart from the times whose cutoffs are noon and midnight, the borders between these times of day remain fairly vague depending on the sun and on the preferences of whoever is speaking.
Note that where in English you’d say “in the…” the equivalent in Spanish is “de la…” or “del…” Let’s take a look:
La mañana: Morning
La mañana starts at around dawn, and lasts until noon.
- It’s seven twenty in the morning. – Son las siete y veinte de la mañana.
- It’s eleven forty in the morning. – Son las once y cuarenta de la mañana.
El mediodía: Noontime
El mediodía is a period in the middle of the day which actually lasts an hour or two depending on the person, starting at noon and generally lasting until sometime between around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. This noontime is also often referred to as la hora del almuerzo, meaning lunchtime.
- It’s a quarter past noon. – Son las doce y cuarto del mediodía.
- It’s twelve fifty in the afternoon. – Son las doce y cincuenta del mediodía.
- It’s lunchtime, María is not available. – Es la hora del almuerzo, María no está disponible.
La tarde: Afternoon
La tarde covers the period of the day after el mediodía, lasting until around sunset.
- It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. – Son las tres en punto de la tarde.
- It’s six fifty-five in the afternoon. – Son las seis y cincuenta y cinco de la tarde.
La noche: Evening, Night
La noche covers the period from around sunset, lasting until midnight. Midnight itself is called la medianoche.
- It’s twenty past eight in the evening. – Son las ocho y veinte de la noche.
- It’s twelve o’clock at night. It’s midnight. – Son las doce de la noche. Es la medianoche.
La madrugada: The late night, The wee hours of the morning
La madrugada is the part of the late night starting at midnight, lasting until the sun begins to rise. Note that while many Spanish learners are familiar with the standard translation of night as la noche, when we’re referring to the wee hours of the morning we actually prefer this specific term. You’ll also sometimes hear people simply refer to these hours as la mañana, similarly to English.
- It’s three in the morning. – Son las tres de la madrugada. – Son las tres de la mañana.
- It’s four thirty-three in the morning. – Son las cuatro y treinta y tres de la madrugada.
The 24-hour cycle
First of all, the hours of the day in Spanish are often broken down into two 12-hour cycles like in English, using the same A.M. and P.M. abbreviation after the time to clarify whether it’s before or after noon. These are pronounced just as their letters in Spanish.
Of course many people might see A.M. written and just pronounce it as de la mañana, or see P.M. and just say de la tarde or de la noche. The meaning obviously remains the same.
It’s quite common in Spanish to use the 24-hour clock for the second half of the day. While in English you don’t really have lunch at thirteen o’clock or dinner at nineteen thirty, in Spanish it’s entirely normal to eat a las trece or a las diecinueve y media. With this formulation, it’s no longer necessary to mention the period of the day, nor P.M.
There you have it, a fairly comprehensive guide on telling time in Spanish. Hopefully most of the details seem familiar enough thanks to their similarities with English, while you also got a good feel for the key differences on how to say time in Spanish.
We started off with the basics of how to ask the time in Spanish, and how to give a response, with the main point being the obligatory use of the Spanish preposition a to say something is at a given time.
In the main section we covered all the details of telling time in Spanish, starting with the use of en punto to say o’clock, and then getting into the use of y to add the minutes. We learned to use cuarto or media for the fractions of hours, including the use of para to say the how long before the next hour. We saw how we usually use the verb ser to say it’s a given time, conjugated in singular es for one o’clock and in plural son for all the plural hours of the day. We also saw how we can use the verb tener to say we have a certain time.
In our final section we broke the day down into different times in Spanish, starting in the morning with la mañana, passing through el mediodía, la tarde, and la noche, to reach the wee hours of the morning with la madrugada. We ended that section noting how we also use A.M. and P.M., while also often referring to the time of day in Spanish using the 24-hour clock instead.
Now that you’re clear on telling time in Spanish, we recommend you extend your time scales with our other dedicated posts on the days of the week in Spanish, as well as the Spanish months and seasons. Altogether, you’re ready to go to talk all about time in Spanish!