How to Tell Time in Italian

Vocabulary, Usage and Tips

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The simplest way to inquire about the time in Italian is by using the verb essere:

  • Che ore sono? Che ora è? – What time is it?

You can use the above sentences interchangeably when asking about the time, but when responding you will always use "sono le" unless you are talking about 1 p.m. in the 12 hour clock (é l'una) or mezzogiorno and mezzanotte:

  • Sono le diciassette. – It is the 17th hour or 5 pm.
  • È mezzogiorno. – It's noon.

Be Polite

But even better, if you want to be polite add an "excuse me" into the mix:

  • Mi scusi, che ora è? – Excuse me, what time is it?
  • Mi scusi, che ore sono? – Excuse me, what time is it?

The two questions have the same meaning and basic structure. The difference is that the first uses ora è? (is it now?), while the second uses sono le? (is it?). Both uses are perfectly acceptable, but the first conveys a slightly greater sense of immediacy.

Useful Vocabulary: Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night

To indicate a.m. add "di mattina":

  • Sono le 11 di mattina. – It’s 11 in the morning.

To indicate afternoon add "del pomeriggio" (12 noon to 5 pm):

  • Sono le 2 del pomeriggio. – It’s 2 in the afternoon.

To indicate evening use "di sera ." This period of time changes with seasons but it usually sits between the afternoon and the late night, from 5 pm to 9 or 10 pm:

  • Sono le sei di sera. – It’s 6 in the evening.

To indicate night time use "di notte" (10 pm to early morning):

  • Sono le 3 di notte. – It’s three in the morning.

Must-Know Vocabulary Words

Additionally, there are a number of important words and phrases to know in relation to telling time in Italian. Here's a brief list with their English equivalents:

  • Una mezz’ora (A half hour):
    • Mamma arriva tra mezz'ora. – Mom arrives in thirty minutes.
  • Un quarto d’ora (A quarter of an hour):
    • Ho bisogno di un quarto d'ora per farmi una doccia. – I need 15 minutes to take a shower.
  • A volte (Sometimes):
    • A volte mi prendo un caffè. – Sometimes I buy myself a coffee.
  • Due volte al giorno (Twice a day):
    • Passeggio al cane due volte al giorno. – I walk the dog twice a day.
  • Tutti i giorni (Every day):
    • Io vado al gym tutti i giorni. – I go to the gym every day.
  • Ogni tanto (From time to time):
    • Ogni tanto visito la mia zia in Chicago. – From time to time I visit my aunt in Chicago.
  • Mancano cinque minuti alle... (It’s five minutes to...)
    • Mancano cinque minuti alle 3 pm. – It's five to 3 pm.
  • A che ora chiude? (What time does it close?):
    • A che ora chiude la piscina? – What time does the pool close?
  • A che ora apre? (What time does it open?):
    • A che ora apre il panificio? – What time does the bakery open?
  • A che ora comincia? (What time does it start?):
    • A che ora comincia il film? – What time does the movie start?

    Reminder

    Don't forget that the 24 hour clock usage is widespread in Italy and most parts of Europe. In short, 1 p.m. is expressed as 13:00, while 5:30 p.m. is 17:30. An appointment or invitation for 19:30 is meant for 7:30 p.m. But the 12 hour clock is well known and everyone will understand when you use it.

    Finally, the months as well as the days of the week in Italian will give you more vocabulary and broaden your skills in the language.