Telling the Time in English

Lesson 2.7 Telling the Time in English

Telling the Time in English

Listen to the podcast on telling the time:

2.7.1  Telling the time is an important life skill in any language – and English is no different. We need to know what time it is so that we’re not late for class or work; so we don’t miss our favourite TV show or an appointment with a friend or colleague; so we don’t miss the train or bus and get home on time.


2.7.2  We tell the time in English, not say the time. How could you be on time for your English class without a watch (wrist) or a clock (wall/phone)? We can ask: What’s the time? What time is it? or Have you got the time, please? To reply, we use it is… or it’s… We can say It’s time for + noun, e.g. It’s time for lunch. Or It’s time to + verb, e.g. It’s time to begin.

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2.7.3  There are two ways of telling the time in English: saying two numbers together (10.40 = It’s ten forty), or using past and to (10.40 = It’s twenty to eleven). The easiest method is to say two numbers. We use past when the time is between 01 and 30, and to when the time is between 31 and 59. We only use o’clock when the time is on the hour: It’s ten o’clock. We count time on a clock in intervals of 5 minutes.

2.7.4  If the number of minutes past or to is odd, e.g. 6 or 19, we say minutes, e.g. 2:19 = It’s nineteen minutes past two. If the time is between 01 and 09 minutes past, we use the word oh, e.g. 7.08 = seven oh eight. Or we could say: It’s about / around / nearly ten past seven.

2.7.5  We don’t use the 24-hour clock in everyday speech or writing, e.g. it’s fourteen o’clock, but we may need to read it when we look at a bus, train, plane timetable. However, we can use am (night & morning: 12.00am – 11.59am) and pm (afternoon, evening & night: 12.00pm – 11.50pm) to state which time period we mean. Usually the context makes am and pm redundant, e.g. ‘Your next lesson is at 3 o’clock on Tuesday.’ It is very unlikely for the lesson to be at 3am! 12pm = midday while 12am = midnight.

2.7.6  A second is the smallest common unit of time. There are 60 seconds in a minute; 60 minutes in an hour; 24 hours in a day; 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) in a weekend; 7 days in a week; 2 weeks in a fortnight; 28, 29, 30, or 31 days in a month; 3 months in a quarter; 12 months or 365 days in a year; 366 days in a leap year; 10 years in a decade; 25 years in a generation; 100 years in a century; and 1,000 years in a millennium.

2.7.7  Time and prepositions: we say on + day (on Monday), in + month or year (in June; in 2016), and at for specific times (at 4 o’clock) and time periods (at the weekend).

2.7.8  Here are some common idioms connected with time: I can be on time for my lesson; spend time with a friend; kill time doing something trivial while waiting; have time for an activity; have a whale of a time or have the time of my life at an amazing party. That’s because time flies when you’re having fun – it goes quickly when you are not aware of it – but drags when you are clock-watching – counting the time until something boring ends.


Ex. 2.7.1

1. Write the times using It’s + numbers and It’s + past/to:

  1. 40 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 15 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 55 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 12 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 40 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 55 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 00 ____________________________________________________________________________
  1. 04 ____________________________________________________________________________

2. Convert these times into the 24-hour clock using figures:

2.15pm ______________________________

4.35pm ______________________________

1.10am ______________________________

10.20pm ______________________________

6.48pm ______________________________

10.08am ______________________________

9.30pm ______________________________

midnight ______________________________

3. Write each time correctly:

  1. It’s fifty past twelve. ______________________
  2. It’s qarter past three. _____________________
  3. It’s four past eight. ______________________
  4. It’s ten. ______________________________
  5. It’s thirty before ten. _____________________
  6. It’s ten oh five o’clock. ____________________
  7. It’s forty past second. ____________________
  8. It’s thirty two minutes to eight.  _____________

4. Put the time periods in order of size from shortest to longest. Mark them 1-15:













leap year



5. Match the idioms with their meanings below:


  1. to be on time
  2. time is money
  3. to run out of time
  4. to kill time
  5. time flies when you’re having fun
  6. time is dragging
  7. to have a whale of a time
  8. to waste time
  9. to do time
  10. time is on your side


to have no time left

time is valuable

to do nothing while waiting for something

to not do something useful or worthwhile

you have got time to do something

to arrive at the agreed time

to be in prison

time seems to be going slowly

time goes quickly when you don’t pay attention to it

to have a great time

6. Complete each gap using an appropriate word or phrase from this lesson:

Tina: ‘Let’s meet  a)________ five  b)________  c)________ Sunday. I’ll try to  d)________, but I can’t guarantee it because my bus is often late. It will be great to  e)________ time with you! I will get the bus home  f)________ Tuesday morning  g)________ five  h)________ eleven. I hope we will  i)________ time to visit the leisure centre. Last time we went I had  j)________. It was fantastic! Life here is so boring. I’ve been  k)________ time every day, just playing on my phone. I don’t like  l)________ time, so it will be good to see you next  m)________ and do something fun!’

7. Complete the gaps using prepositions of time on, at, or in:

  1. ________ spring
  2. ________ 12th February
  3. ________ the morning
  4. ________ the moment
  5. ________ Christmas Day
  6. ________ Monday afternoon
  7. ________ a fortnight
  8. ________ Monday
  9. ________ 10 o’clock
  10. ________ the weekend
  11. ________ night
  12. ________  July

8. Write each time from its phonetic (Clear Alphabet) spelling:

  1. Ten t Siks ______________________
  2. Se v n Klok ______________________
  3. Too Wei teen ______________________
  4. For Fi fteen ______________________
  5. Kor t t Wun ______________________
  6. i Le v neu For ______________________
  7. Ttree yei Yem ______________________
  8. Har Fpar Steit ______________________

Ex. 2.7.2 Reading  Draw hands on the clocks to show the times written below:



Here is a printable blank clocks template which you can photocopy and use to make your own clocks exercises: blank-clocks-template.

Ex. 2.7.3 Writing  Write the time below each clock in words, beginning with ‘It’s…’



Ex. 2.7.4 Writing  Write each time in three different ways:


Ex. 2.7.5 Writing  Convert each time from am and pm to the 24-hour clock:

  1. 4.18pm _____________
  2. 3.20am _____________
  3. _____________
  4. 12.05pm _____________
  5. 5.30am _____________
  6. 2.28am _____________
  7. midnight _____________
  8. 6.35pm _____________
  9. 1.09am _____________
  10. 9.50pm _____________
  11. 3.35am _____________
  12. 8.45pm _____________
  13. 6.02am _____________
  14. 1.48pm _____________
  15. midday _____________
  16. 2.15am _____________
  17. 10.55pm _____________
  18. 11.00pm _____________
  19. 7.40pm _____________
  20. 1.10am _____________

Ex. 2.7.6 Writing  These sentences are incorrect. Write them again correctly – in words:

  1. It’s fifty to one. _______________________________________________________
  2. It’s thirty-five past three. _______________________________________________________
  3. It’s ten before nine. _______________________________________________________
  4. It’s eighteen to twelve. _______________________________________________________
  5. It’s quarter after nine. _______________________________________________________
  6. It’s forty to five. _______________________________________________________
  7. It’s fifteen past seven. _______________________________________________________
  8. It’s ten. _______________________________________________________
  9. It’s two past two. _______________________________________________________
  10. It’s six one five. _______________________________________________________
  11. It’s twenty-two o’clock. _______________________________________________________
  12. It’s nineteen hours. _______________________________________________________
  13. It’s thirty-five to eight. _______________________________________________________
  14. It’s eighteen past four. _______________________________________________________
  15. It’s thirteen o’clock. _______________________________________________________

Ex. 2.7.7 Writing  How long do I need to wait, if….

  1. it’s 2.30pm and the bus leaves at 3 o’clock? ___________________________________
  2. it’s ten in the morning and the train arrives at 4.12pm? ______________________________
  3. it’s 4.45pm and the tram leaves in quarter of an hour? ______________________________
  4. it’s 13:15 and the boat departs at 14:02? ___________________________________
  5. it’s 6.19pm and the taxi is due at 6.38pm? ___________________________________
  6. it’s 4.39am and the buses start running at 6.30am? _________________________________

Ex. 2.7.8 Writing  What time is it now, if….

  1. the train departs at 10.14am and I’m five minutes early? _____________________________
  2. there is a ferry at 5pm – in half an hour from now?         _____________________________
  3. I can get the next tram at 4.54pm, in fifteen minutes?     _____________________________
  4. my flight leaves at nine – in forty minutes?                    _____________________________
  5. the 9.23 to Birmingham left three minutes late ten minutes ago? _______________________
  6. the subway closes at midnight – in fifteen minutes’ time? _____________________________

Ex. 2.7.9 Reading  Put the times in order – from the earliest to the latest:

  1. 13:10
  2. ten past one in the morning
  3. 23am
  4. half past three in the afternoon
  5. 4am
  6. five past five in the morning
  7. two thirty pm
  8. 23:02
  9. nine oh six am
  10. two minutes to seven am
  11. midnight
  12. ten o’clock in the morning
  13. 03:40
  14. midday
  15. six in the evening
  16. 19:35
  17. 11pm
  18. 06:55
  19. quarter past nine at night
  20. 15:28

Ex. 2.7.10 Research  Use a library or the internet to find the answers to the following questions about units of time:

  1. Which is faster, a nanosecond or a millisecond?
  2. Which is faster, a millisecond or a microsecond?
  3. How many milliseconds are there in a second?
  4. How many seconds are there in five minutes?
  5. How many minutes are there in a quarter of an hour?
  6. How many seconds are there in two hours?
  7. How many minutes are there in a day?
  8. How many hours are there in a day?
  9. How many hours are there in a weekend?
  10. How many hours are there in one week?
  11. How many minutes are there in a fortnight?
  12. How many days are there in a calendar month?
  13. How many days are there in a lunar month?
  14. How many days are there in a standard year?
  15. How many days are there in a leap year?
  16. How many hours are there in a leap year?
  17. How many years are there in a generation?
  18. How many years are there in four decades?
  19. How many years are there in a couple of centuries?
  20. How many years are there in a millennium?

Ex. 2.7.11 Reading  Read the extract from a bus timetable and answer the questions below. Write your answers in words and use am or pm rather than the 24-hour clock:


  1. What time does the 15:51 bus from Timberley arrive in Champerdon?
  2. What time does the first bus in the morning leave Timberley?
  3. What time does the 14:10 bus from Markham arrive in Holden Bridge?
  4. What time does the 08:15 bus from Markham arrive in Timberley?
  5. Which route is the longest? How many minutes does it take?
  6. How long does the number 48B bus take to get from Markham to Timberley?
  7. Can I get the number 49 bus from Markham at 12:00 on Wednesdays?
  8. How long does the number 48B bus take to get to Holden Bridge from Timberley?
  9. Can I use this timetable at the weekend? Why? / Why not?
  10. Which bus is quicker if I want to get from Markham to Champerdon? By how many minutes?
  11. What time does the 09:45 bus from Holden Bridge arrive in Champerdon?
  12. Which bus do I need to take to get to Timberley, arriving in the morning at around eleven?
  13. Can I get the number 48B bus from Holden Bridge at 08:40 on Mondays?
  14. Does the number 49 bus go to Timberley?
  15. How long does the number 49 bus take to get to Champerdon from Markham?
  16. It’s Tuesday. What time is the next bus to Timberley if I’m in Markham and I want to leave after 2pm?
  17. How long does the number 48B bus take to get from Holden Bridge to Champerdon?
  18. What time is the next bus to Holden Bridge if I’m in Timberley and I want to leave after 3.40pm?
  19. Which route is the shortest? How many minutes does it take?
  20. What is the best bus to take to Champerdon if I’m in Holden Bridge and I want to arrive at around 10am.

Title image: Massimiliano Morosinotto