Understand and Tell the Time

Twelve o’clock, midday, noon or midnight? All are correct.

Giving the time and understanding it should be easy but because there are a few ways to say the same time it can be difficult.

Use 12-hour clock when speaking

Only the army and people working in transport use 24-hour clock in speech to tell the time.

“It’s one o’clock” is a natural way to give the time.

“It’s thirteen o’clock” is understandable but strange.

Check your minutes

The basic rule is:

__:00 is o’clock;
__:01 to __:30 is past;
and __:31 to __:59 is to.

__:15 is quarter past;
__:30 is half past;
and __:45 is quarter to.

Everything else uses the number of minutes, and don’t use the word ‘minutes’ with ‘past’ or ‘to’ unless you are in a very formal situation or the number of minutes does not end with five or zero.


Ten past six or six ten.


Five to three or two fifty-five.


Half past six or six thirty.


Quarter past two or two fifteen.


Quarter to four or three forty-five.

You might also find this podcast episode helpful.

Time with prepositions

One thing a lot of people have problems with when describing time and action relationships is choosing the right preposition. Here is a quick guide.

on + date or day

I will arrive on 26th September.
Could you meet me on Thursday?

in + time period, such as seasons, times of day and months

Let’s meet in June.
Could you arrive early in the morning?
It’s very humid in Summer.

at + time

The meeting starts at noon.
Would you be able to get the train at seven o’clock?

no preposition with this ~ / tomorrow ~ / next ~ / today

Let’s meet this Friday.
I’m busy tomorrow.
What are you doing next week?
Do you have time to talk today?