How to Tell the Time in Italian

Want to learn to tell the time in Italian? Being able to tell the time in any language is important, and it’s really not as difficult as it might first appear. Read our blog post and, by the end of it, you’ll be telling the time like a pro!

Telling the time in Italian is pretty straight forward. Really, to be able to say any time, you only need to know two things – a form of the verb essere (to be) and the numbers 1-59.

Of course, we’ve got a little more for you than that! In this post, you’ll also learn how to say half past and quarter past, how to say different times of the day, and also some time words that will be useful in a bunch of different situations.

The verb – essere

To tell the time, you only actually need two forms of the verb essere – the third person singular (è – he/she/it is) and third person plural (sono – they are). You’ll also be using sono much more often than è, as è is only used when you’re referring to one o’clock, midnight, and midday because they’re all singular.

  • È l’una. – It is one o’clock.
  • È mezzogiorno. – It is midday/noon.
  • È mezzanotte. – It is midnight.

Sono is used to tell every other time of the day. This is a very simple structure:

Sono + le + hour.

  • Sono le due. – It is two o’clock. It is 02:00.
  • Sono le quattro. – It is four o’clock. It is 04:00.
  • Sono le nove. – It is nine o’clock. It is 09:00.
  • Sono le quindici. – It is three o’clock (in the afternoon). It is 15:00.
  • Sono le ventidue. – It is ten o’clock (at night). It is 22:00.

The numbers 1-59

Of course, so far you’ve only learnt how to say ‘it is … o’clock’. What about when you want to refer to minutes?

That’s where the numbers 1-59 come into play.

Take your initial structure (sono + le + hour) and then add e (and) and the number of minutes to the end of it.

  • Sono le diciotto e trentacinque. – It is six thirty-five (in the evening). It is 18:35.
  • Sono le tre e dieci. – It is ten past three (in the morning). It is 03:10.
  • Sono le undici e venti. – It is twenty past eleven (in the morning). It is 11:20.

Want to say it’s so many minutes to something? Well, then you’ll need meno (minus):

  • Sono le nove meno cinque. – It is five to nine (in the morning). It is 08:55.
  • Sono le ventidue meno dieci. – It is ten to ten (in the evening). It is 21:50.
  • Sono le sei meno venti. – It is twenty to six (in the morning). It is 05:40.

If you already know your Italian numbers, then you might have noticed something about the examples we’re using.

Generally, Italy uses a 24-hour clock, which means for the hours, you’ll hear the numbers from 1-23. However, this is considered a bit formal in conversation, so most often you’ll use and hear the 12-hour clock when you’re among friends.

Of course, this sometimes means you’ll have to define what time of day you’re talking about…

How to say times of the day

If it’s not clear what time you’re talking about using the 12-hour clock, then you might have to clarify by saying the time of day. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up at eight in the morning and then find out you weren’t supposed to be there until eight at night!

You can modify any of the times you say with the following words:

  • di mattina – in the morning
  • del pomeriggio – in the afternoon
  • di sera – in the evening
  • di notte – in the night

So, if you need to make it clear:

  • Sono le sei meno venti di mattina. – It is twenty to six in the morning. It is 05:40.
  • Sono le otto e venti di sera. – It is twenty past eight in the evening. It is 20:20.

How to say half past, quarter past, etc.

Like in English, Italian has specific phrases that translate to ‘half past’, ‘quarter past’ and ‘quarter to’. These are used more often than adding the minutes to the end of the phrase.

  • Sono le quattordici e mezza. – It is half past two (in the afternoon). It is 14:30.
  • Sono le dieci e un quarto. – It is quarter past ten (in the morning). It is 10:15.
  • Sono le tredici meno un quarto. – It is quarter to one (in the afternoon). It is 12:45.

Some extra useful words

Of course, there are plenty of other time-related words and phrases that might come in handy as you learn Italian. We’ve collected some of them for you below:

Che ora è?What time is it?
Che ora sono?What time is it?You can use both forms of ‘che ora è/sono’ interchangeably.
a / alleatA mezzanotte – at midnight; all’una – at one o’clock; alle due – at two o’clock
in puntoon the dot
adessonowChe ore sono adesso? – What time is it now?
all’albaat dawn
al tramontoat sunset
al momentoat the moment
nel frattempoin the meantime
prestoearly, soon
tra un po’in a while
per molto tempofor a long time
per poco tempofor a short time
il prima possibileas soon as possible
in qualsiasi momentoat any time
di tanto in tantofrom time to time

We hope this post has helped you feel more confident about telling the time in Italian! If you’re looking for more help, then why not give our app a try? The ‘Time’ topic contains almost 50 different time phrases, and each one comes with native speaker audio. Give it a go today!

Fino alla prossima volta! (Until next time!)

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