How To Tell Time in Spanish

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. It's that easy.

Basic Rules for Telling Time in Spanish

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 (a word for "half"). Use cuarto (meaning "fourth") 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 (a cognate of "minus") 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.)

Key Takeaways: Telling Time in Spanish

  • The most common way of telling time on the hour in Spanish follows the pattern of "es la una" for 1:00 and "son las [number]" for later times.
  • For incremental times, add "y + [number of minutes up to 29]" after the hour and "menos + [number of minutes up to 29] before the hour.
  • You can also use media and cuarto for the half-hours and quarter-hours, respectively.

How To Include Time Periods of the Day

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 or el mediodía), de la tarde between noon and early evening, and de la noche from evening to midnight (medianoche or la medianoche).

  • Es la 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 el 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, Future, and Subjunctive

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 la medianoche. (It was midnight.)
  • Eran las once de la noche. (It was 11 at night.)

The simple future tense or periphrastic future can be used if the event has yet to occur:

  • El funeral será el mediodía del miércoles. (The funeral will be at noon on Wednesday.)
  • Pronto van a ser las tres de la mañana. (Soon it will be 3 a.m.)
  • La hora local será las cuatro de la tarde. (The local time will be 4 p.m.)

The subjunctive mood can also be used as needed:

  • Esperamos que sea la una. (We hope it's 1 o'clock.)
  • Tengo miedo que sean las seis y media. (I'm afraid it is 6:30.)
  • Jenny ansiaba que fueran las tres de la tarde. (Jenny was worried that it was 3 p.m.)

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)

Sample Sentences

Los Bombers de Mallorca llegaron a la zona a las dos y media de la tarde. (The Mallorca Bombers arrive in the area at 2:30 p.m.)

Era más oscuro que la medianoche. (It was darker than midnight.)

La clase comienza a las 10 de la mañana y termina a mediodía. (The class begins at 10 a.m. and ends at noon.)

El sábado tengo que levantarme a las cinco y media de la mañana. (On Saturday I have to get up at 5:30 a.m.)

Eran las siete de la tarde y no había nadie. (It was 7 p.m. and there was nobody there.)

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Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Tell Time in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). How To Tell Time in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Tell Time in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).