Telling the time

In this lesson you will learn time expressions, how to tell the time and how to read the clock.

Time Expressions

Before learning how to read the clock, you should know some important time expressions.

AM and PM meanings

  • AM is the abbreviation of Ante Meridiem which means before noon.
    AM is used to indicate any period of time before noon, or the period between midnight and noon (after midnight and before noon).
  • PM is the abbreviation of Post Meridiem which means after noon.
    We used PM to indicate time period between the noon and the midnight (after noon till midnight).

You can write them in small letters a.m. and p.m. but don't forget to put the points after each letter.

Here are some time expressions we use to refer to common periods of the day.

Expression Meaning
Morning Is the period started after midnight till noon.
Noon It is the middle of the day.
Afternoon Is the time from noon to evening.
Evening Is the time from the end of afternoon to midnignt.
Night It is the period after Sunset to the period before Sunrise.
Midnight Its 12:00 midnight.
Dawn It is the period before sunrise when the sunlight is weak.
Sunrise The time of the day when sun appears.
Sunset It is the time when the sun disappears or daylight fades.
Dusk It is the the time when daylight has gone.

Here is the most common expressions that we used to talk about time.

Word Meaning
Big hand
Minute hand
Long hand, it indicates the minutes.
Little hand
Hour hand
Short hand, it indicates the hour.
Past We use this expression to state a time which is less than 30 minutes after a particular hour.
To We use this expression to indicate the reamining minutes to an specific time.

Time formats

Time format is how to write the time and it is different between countries. But in general, we use a column (:) to separate minutes and hours when writting the time.

There are 2 format to write the time:

  • 12-hour clock that use normal numbers with AM and PM.
  • 24-hour clock that use numbers from 0 to 23 to indicate time.

12-hour clock

In this format we use numbers from 1 to 12 followed by AM or PM. So this style divides the days into 2 periods, the first one is starts after midnight to the noon, and the second one is starts from 1 noon to 12 midnight.

Here are some examples:

  • 12:00 AM It is 12:00 midnight.
  • 12:00 PM It is 12 afternoon.

24-hour clock

In this format the day is divided into 24 hours. We use numbers from 00:00 to 23:59 where the first part indicates the hours and the second indicates the minutes.

Don't add AM or PM notation in this format.

12-hour clock and 24-hour clock

Here are the times in 12-hour clock and 24-hour clock

24-hour clock 12-hour clock
00:00 12:00 AM
00:30 12:30 AM
01:00 1:00 AM
02:00 2:00 AM
03:00 3:00 AM
04:00 4:00 AM
05:00 5:00 AM
06:00 6:00 AM
07:00 7:00 AM
08:00 8:00 AM
09:00 9:00 AM
10:00 10:00 AM
11:00 11:00 AM
12:00 12:00 AM
13:00 1:00 PM
14:00 2:00 PM
15:00 3:00 PM
16:00 4:00 PM
17:00 5:00 PM
18:00 6:00 PM
19:00 7:00 PM
20:00 8:00 PM
21:00 9:00 PM
22:00 10:00 PM
23:00 11:00 PM

How to ask about time?

The following example clarifies how you can ask about the time and what the response may look like.

What time is it?

It's eight o'clock.

How to read the clock?

When it comes to read the clock, remeber these rules:

  • Tell minutes first then hours.
  • When the minute's hand is on the right side of the clock, we use the word "past" to indicate the number of minutes that passed after the current hour.
  • When the minute's hand is on the left side of the clock, we use the word "to" to indicate the number of minutes that are remaining to reach the next hour.

  • When the minutes's hand is on the number 12, you can say O'clock.
  • When the minute's hand is on the number 6, you should say half past.
  • Instead of saying 15 past, you can say a quarter past.
  • Instead of saying 15 to, you can say a quarter to.

how do we use the word (past)?

We use the word past when the minute's hand is on any digit before 6.


It's ten past nine.


It's quarter past six.


It's twenty past seven.


It's half past three.

How do we use the word to

We use the word to, when the minute's hand is on any digits after digit 6.


It's five to four.


It's ten to nine.


It's quarter to seven.


It's twenty-five to four.

Examples about using o'clock


It's four o'clock.

Easy way to read time

You can read time without using the words past and to, but in this case you will start telling the hours, then the minutes. Here are some examples:


It's eleven thirty.


It's ten twenty-seven.


It's nine O-five.

If the minute starts by a 0, we pronounce it as the letter O as we did in the previous example.

Test yourself

Test 1 Test 2 Test 3


Online Tools