It’s time to learn some English! Telling time is very important. Knowing what time it is helps us every day. If we know what time it is, we can be at work on time (punctual, at the right time, not late), meet friends, and make plans. So how can you talk about telling time in English?

Learning how to tell time in English is a useful skill (talent, thing) to know. If this is something you need to know (or need to review (learn again)), then this is the blog for you!


In the United States, we don’t use what we call “military time” or the way they tell time in the military. Military time uses the 24-hour clock system, like often done in Europe, for example. Instead, in English we tell time on two, 12-hour periods.

For example, 15:00 = 3p.m., and 09:00 = 9a.m.

But what exactly (precisely, in detail) do A.M. and P.M. mean?

A.M. means ante meridian (before noon, or morning) and P.M. means post meridian (after noon, or afternoon). If you have two 9 o’clocks in a day, using A.M. and P.M. is a way to tell them apart (know if you are speaking of before mid-day or after).

Take note that A.M. and P.M. are not used with military time. You would not say 15:00 p.m., for example. Also, context usually makes it clear if you are speaking about A.M. and P.M., so you may not hear them at all in a sentence.

For example:

  • Do you want to meet tomorrow at 9 for breakfast?
  • Are you free at 9 (p.m.) to see a movie?


I’ve had this question frequently (often): how do you know the difference between noon and midnight? Both are 12 o’clock, but which one is which?

When you think of midnight, think of the middle of the night. Midnight marks the start of a new day, and is at 12a.m.

When you think of noon, think of the word afternoon. Noon is at 12p.m., which means all the times after 12:00pm are in the afternoon.

For example:

  • I’m usually asleep by midnight.
  • I have lunch every day at noon.

A quarter to/a quarter past

When telling time, you will probably hear someone say a quarter to or a quarter past. When you hear this, it means 15 minutes before or after the top of the hour (3:00, 4:00, etc.).

For example:

  • Let’s meet at quarter to four for teatime. (3:45p.m.)
  • School starts every day at quarter past seven. (7:15a.m.)

You will also hear this with 20 to/past or 10 to/past. It means the same as quarter to/past, just with twenty minutes before or after, or ten minutes before or after.


O’clock comes from the phrase “of the clock.” It is only used in specific cases, though, when you are telling time in English.

  • It is not used with military time. You cannot say 15:00 o’clock or 23:00 o’clock.
  • It is not used with A.M. or P.M. You cannot say 9a.m. o’clock.
  • It is not used with times like 3:05, 9:24, 12:56, etc. You cannot say 12:56 o’clock, for example.

O’clock is only used with general times, or whole times, such as one (1:00), two (2:00), eight (8:00), or nine (9:00).

For example:

  • Want to meet up tomorrow around ten o’clock?
  • What time is it? It’s exactly 11 o’clock.

Was this a good review of telling time in English? Or was this all new to you? Either way, if you need to practice, you can do so by talking about time with friends. Also, you can practice on a real clock! Every time you look at the time, say it to yourself in your head. It’s sure to help a lot!

Do you have any tips for telling time in English? How did you learn? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

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Check out these other popular blogs: TV English VocabularyBanking English VocabularyEnglish Comma: Basic Rules, or these Commonly Confused Words used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and things telling time in English isn’t too tricky once you get the hang of it. Just remember midnight starts the day! 

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