How To Tell Time in Italian

Counting in italian
Jeffrey Coolidge

 Even though I had learned how to tell the time in Italian during one of my Italian courses, I still hadn’t actually used it in real conversation. I must also admit that I don’t remember ever learning that Italians use the 24-hour clock, commonly known as military time, which added another level of confusion to the mix given that I have always been a mess with Italian numbers.

As I made my way around the Italian language while living in and visiting Italy, the nuances in the rules finally began to stick with me, and to help you out, dear Italian language student, I’ve placed all of them here for easy reference.

To start, I’ve written a couple of dialogues so you can get a feel for how conversations about time might unfold and then followed those up with a handful of key phrases and vocabulary words.

Plus, as always, there are cultural tips at the bottom, so you can be in the know and avoid making a brutta figura (a bad impression).

Dialogues

#1

Giulia: Arrivo da te intorno alle 17, va bene? - I’ll be arriving at your place around 5, okay?

Silvia: Va bene, però devo andare a trovare mia nonna alle 18, vuoi andarci con me? - Sounds good, but I have to go to visit my grandma at six, do you want to come with me?

Giulia: Volentieri! Tua nonna fa i migliori biscotti. - Yes! Your grandma makes the best cookies.

#2

Uomo sull’autobus: Mi scusi, che ore sono? - Excuse me, what time is it?

Donna sull’autobus: Le quattordici (14). - Two o’clock in the afternoon.

Uomo: Grazie! - Thank you!

Donna: Prego. - You’re welcome.

How to Say the Time in Italian

As you may have noticed from the dialogues above, you’ll most likely hear to the phrase “che ore sono?” to inquire about the time. In response, you can simply say the time with the article in front of it, so “le diciassette (17).” If you wanted to say the full sentence, you would continue to use the verb “essere - to be,” so it would be “sono le diciassette (17).” If you’re curious, the “le” is required because it stands for “ore - hours.”

Below you’ll find more key phrases and exceptions.

Key Phrases

  • Mi scusi, che ora è? - Excuse me, what time is it?

  • Mi scusi, che ore sono? - Excuse me, what time is it?

TIP: What’s the difference between the two phrases above? They have the exact same meaning, and the structure of the answers will be the same using “sono le…” Unless, of course, it’s 1. In that case, you would say...

  • È l’una. - It’s 1 PM.

  • Sono le 15. - It’s 15/3 PM.

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

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

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

  • Sono le tre di notte. - It’s three in the morning.

TIP: To indicate AM add di mattina to the hour and to indicate PM, add del pomeriggio (12 Noon to 5 PM), di sera (5 PM to midnight), or di notte (midnight to early morning) to the hour.

  • È mezzogiorno. - It’s noon.

  • È mezzanotte. - It’s midnight.

  • Sono le quattordici e mezzo. - It’s 1430/230 PM.

  • Mancano cinque minuti alle sei. - It’s five minutes to six.

  • A che ora chiude? - What time does it close?

  • A che ora apre? - What time does it open?

  • A che ora comincia (il film)?- What time does (the movie) start?

Must-Know Vocabulary Words

  • Una mezz’ora - A half hour

  • Un quarto d’ora - A quarter of an hour

  • A volte - Sometimes

  • Due volte al giorno - Twice a day

  • Tutti i giorni - Every day

  • Ogni tanto - From time to time

  • Intorno (le sedici) - Around 16/4 PM

  • Arrivare - To arrive

Learn how to conjugate and use the verb “arrivare” by clicking here.

  • Venire - To come

Learn how to conjugate and use the verb “venire” by clicking here.

  • Andare - To go

Learn how to conjugate and use the verb “andare” by clicking here.

TIP: In Italy, as in most of Europe, time is based on the 24-hour day and not on the 12-hour clock. Thus, 1 PM is expressed as 13:00, 5:30 PM as 17:30, etc. That means an appointment or invitation for 19:30 is meant for 7:30 PM.

If you want to learn how to say the months, use this article: Calendar Months in Italian

And if you need to review your knowledge of the days of the week, use this one: Days of the Week in Italian