To ask What time is it? Spanish-speaking people say ¿Qué hora es? (What is the hour?)
To ask what time something is going to take place, At what time? Spanish-speaking people say ¿A qué hora? (At what hour?)
When we talk about the hour of the day in English we refer to it as the time, such as What time is it? or It is 5:20. In each of these cases, "it" is the time.
However, Spanish-speakers refer to the hour, such as What is the hour? or The hour is two. "It" refers to the hour rather than the time.
Two Spanish words for time, tiempo and vez, are not used to refer to the time of day. Tiempo refers to time in a general sense of the word, such as I don't have enough time. Vez refers to an occurrence of time, such as Once upon a time, or two times.
Since the Spanish word for hour, la hora, is feminine, most words related to telling time in Spanish are also feminine.
|Es la una.||It is 1:00 (use una rather than uno for one)|
|A las dos.||It is 2:00 (use la and las for the)|
|Son las cinco y media.||It is 5:30. (use media for half past the hour rather than medio)|
Many Spanish-speaking people both in the United States and in Spanish-speaking countries often use little shortcuts in telling time. Some of these methods are considered proper, but others are considered to be a sign of bad grammar. These will be explained at the end of this unit.
Many younger people are accustomed to telling time with digital clocks and watches and sometimes have difficulty telling the exact time on a typical 12-number round faced clock. This often makes it difficult to learn the formal way of telling time when referring to the left side of the clock (12:31, 1:45, 5:55, etc.)
When we say 4:40 we are referring to the last hour that was passed on the clock (4 was the last hour and 5 is the next hour coming up). However, in the formal way of telling time in Spanish one uses the next hour coming up for the left side of the clock (4:40 is thought of as 5 minus 20 minutes, much as we would think in saying 20 til 5). This will be explained in the following sections.
|1:00 AM = 0100 hours||9:00 AM = 0900 hours|
|1:00 PM = 1300 hours||11:00 PM = 2300 hours|
Telling time in Spanish is an essential skill to help you speak with others and improve your fluency. To find out what other skills can help, check out our Spanish courses!
To identify what time it is when it is on the hour, such as 1:00, 3:00, or 9:00 we say Es la una, Son las tres, or Son las nueve.
We use Es la for 1:00 because the hour is 1. (Remember, in Spanish we talk about the hour rather than the time as we do in English). We use Son las for 2:00 through 12:00 because the hours are more than one.
When we want to emphasize that it is 1:00 sharp or 5:00 on the dot we can say Es la una en punto, or Son las cinco en punto.
Note: Es la is used from 12:31 through 1:30, twice a day. Son las is used all the rest of the time.
The following diagram and explanation will help you understand the basics of telling time between 1 minute after the hour to 1 minute before the hour:
Rather than using the number 15 for 15 minutes past the hour Spanish-speaking people normally say cuarto which means quarter. (Cuarto is just like the Spanish number 4 (cuatro) with the t and r reversed.)
|5:15||Son las cinco y cuarto.|
|1:15||Es la una y cuarto.|
|5:45||Son las seis menos cuarto.|
|12:45||Es la una menos cuarto.|
Rather than using the number 30 for 30 minutes past the hour Spanish-speaking people normally say media which means half. (Both medio and media mean half, but we use media since hour is feminine.)
|5:30||Son las cinco y media.|
|1:30||Es la una y media.|
|5:30||A las cinco y media.|
|1:30||A la una y media.|
When we want to talk about AM we use de la mañana or por la mañana. We use de la when we are talking about a specific time of day, but we use por la when we are talking about a general time of the day or night.
When we want to talk about PM we use de la tarde or de la noche or por la tarde or por la noche, depending on whether it is afternoon or night.
|Son las nueve de la mañana.||It's 9:00 AM or It's 9:00 in the morning.|
|Tengo una reunión mañana por la tarde.||I have a meeting tomorrow afternoon.|
|Siempre miro las noticias por las mañanas.||I always watch the news in the morning.|
We use the word mediodía (meaning half way through the day) for noon and medianoche (meaning half way through the night for midnight. Since day, el día, is masculine we use the masculine prefix medio for noon, and we use the feminine prefix media for midnight since night, la noche, is feminine.
|Es el mediodía.||It's noon.|
|Tengo una cita al mediodía.||I have an appointment at noon.|
|Es la medianoche.||It's midnight.|
|Miro las noticias a la medianoche.||I watch the news at midnight.|
Most Spanish-speaking people use more informal ways of telling time in their everyday lives. Most of these are very acceptable although there are some shortcuts used by some people which are considered to be a sign of poor grammar in some circles.
From 29 minutes till the hour to 1 minute till the hour you can use minutes + para + the next hour coming up.
From 1 minutes after the hour through half past the hour one can use the last hour passed plus the number of minutes, without adding y. Son las and es la is often omitted.
Sometimes people use quince and treinta rather than cuarto and media to talk about quarter past the hour or half past the hour. To some Spanish-speaking people this practice is considered bad grammar!
Some Spanish-speaking people will say ¿Qué horas son? or shorten it to ¿Qué hora son? rather than ¿Qué hora es? for What time is it? To some Spanish-speaking people this practice is considered bad grammar!
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