Telling Time

Spanish for Beginners

clock in Spain
Reloj de Gobernación en Puerta del Sol, España. (Government Clock in Puerta del Sol, Spain.). Pablo López/Creative Commons.

You can tell time in Spanish if you can count to 29 and learn a handful of words.

The basic way of telling time in Spanish is to use the singular form of ser ("to be"), which is es, for one o'clock and the plural form, son, for other times. Minutes can be stated simply by separating them from the hour using y, the word for "and."

  • Es la una. (It is 1:00.)
  • Es la una y dos. (It is 1:02.)
  • Son las dos. (It is 2:00.)
  • Son las tres. (It is 3:00.)
  • Son las seis y cinco. (It is 6:05.)
  • Son las siete y diez. (It is 7:10.)
  • Son las once y diecinueve. (It is 11:19.)

To indicate the half hour, use media. Use cuarto to indicate the quarter hours.

  • Es la una y media. (It is 1:30.)
  • Son las cuatro y media. (It is 4:30.)
  • Es la una y cuarto. (It is 1:15.)

It is customary to use menos to tell time during the second half of each hour, stating the number of minutes until the following hour.

  • Es la una menos diez. (It is 12:50. It is 10 until 1.)
  • Son las cinco menos cinco. (It is 4:55. It is 5 until 5.)
  • Son las diez menos veinte. (It is 9:40. It is 20 until 10.)
  • Son las ocho menos cuarto. (It is 7:45. It is quarter until 8.)

In most of the Spanish-speaking world, both 12-hour and 24-hour clocks are used, the latter being common in schedules and similar printed materials. To indicate time of day when using the 12-hour clock, use de la madrugada for the wee hours of the morning, de la mañana from then until noon (mediodía), de la tarde between noon and early evening, and de la noche from evening to midnight (medianoche).

  • Es medianoche. (It's midnight.)
  • Son las siete y cuarto de la mañana. (It's 7:15 a.m. It is 7:15 in the morning.)
  • Es mediodía. (It's noon.)
  • Son las cuatro menos cinco de la tarde. (It's 3:55 p.m. It is 5 before 4 in the afternoon.)
  • Son las ocho y media de la noche. (It's 8:30 p.m. It is 8:30 at night.)

The abbreviations a.m. (from the Latin ante meridiem) and p.m. (from the Latin post meridiem) can also be used as in English.

  • Son las 4 y media a.m. (It is 4:30 a.m.)
  • Son las 2 p.m. (It is 2 p.m.)

Time in the Past

When talking about the time that events took place, use the imperfect tense of ser.

  • Era la una y cuatro de la madrugada. (It was 1:15 in the morning.)
  • Era medianoche. (It was midnight.)
  • Eran las once de la noche. (It was 11 at night.)

Other Time Expressions

Here are time-related expressions and words that can be useful:

  • Son las tres y cuarto en punto. (It's 3:15 exactly.)
  • Son las seis y media más o menos. (It's about 6:30.)
  • Salimos a las nueve. (We are leaving at 9:00.)
  • Buenos días. Good day, good morning.
  • Buenas tardes. Good afternoon, good evening (until about 8 p.m.).
  • Buenas noches. Good evening, good night (as either a greeting or a farewell).
  • ¿Qué hora es? What time is it?
  • ¿A qué hora ...? (At what time ... ?)
  • ¿Cuándo ...? (When ... ?)
  • el tiempo (time)
  • el reloj (clock)
  • el despertador, la alarma (alarm clock)
  • el reloj, el reloj de pulsera (wristwatch)