For English students, talking about time can sometimes be difficult. It gets even harder for students who are unsure about numbers in English. Add in all the different ways we refer to the time, plus the 24-hour clock and it gets even more confusing. However, it is this variety that makes it so important to know how to talk about time in English.
When talking about the time we mainly use two prepositions.
We use the preposition AT when talking about a specific time. AT is also the most commonly used preposition when talking about time.
- My appointment is at 3 PM.
- I have to be in work at 0900.
- My children finish school at 3:00 in the afternoon
AT is implied when asking a question about time, but we do not include it in the sentence.
We say, “What time is your appointment?”, but it means, “At what time is your appointment?”
Remember, we do not actually say the word AT.
Keep in mind that you do not need to actually use a number when using AT.
- Lunch starts at noon.
- On weekends, I normally go to bed at midnight.
We use the preposition IN when talking about time in a more general sense.
- My appointment begins in thirty minutes.
- I have to be in work in an hour.
- My children finish school in twenty minutes.
We use the preposition FROM when talking about a period of time.
- I have a meeting from noon to three.
- In the United States, normal working hours are from 9 to 5.
Expressions about time that use prepositions
- in the morning
- in the afternoon
- in the evening
- at night
- at noon
- at midnight
Talking about time
Here are a few common phrases, sentences and expressions we use when talking about the time.
(Q. = Question and A. = Answer)
Q. “What time is it now?”
A. 9:42 PM
A. 9:42 at night
Q. “What time do you go to work? / What time do you leave for work?”
A. 6:30 AM
A. half past six in the morning
A. 6:30 in the morning
Q. “What time do you get home?”
A. 6 PM
A. six in the evening
A. six o’clock in the evening
Rounding time to the nearest 5 minutes
When talking about the time, very rarely will we give the exact time. Quite often we will round up or down to the nearest 5 minute point.
9:40 = 9:40 = nine forty or twenty (minutes) to ten or twenty (minutes) of ten
9:41 = 9:40
9:42 = 9:40
9:43 = 9:45
9:44 = 9:45
9:45 = 9:45 – quarter to ten or quarter of ten
The 24-hour clock or Military Time
If you do not know what the 24-hour clock is, then you should not feel too badly. Most Americans don’t know how to use it, nor do they even understand how it works. In addition, in America, it is usually referred to as “military time”.
How the 24-hour clock works
Understanding how this clock works is not as difficult as many people think. Simply put, you just keep counting up from 12 PM (noon). Another way is to subtract 12 if it is after 12 PM (noon).
- 0000 = 12 AM or Midnight
- 0100 = 1 AM
- 0200 = 2 AM
- 0300 = 3 AM
- 0400 = 4 AM
- 0500 = 5 AM
- 0600 = 6 AM
- 0700 = 7 AM
- 0800 = 8 AM
- 0900 = 9 AM
- 1000 = 10 AM
- 1100 = 11 AM
- 1200 = 12 PM or Noon
- 1300 = 1 PM
- 1400 = 2 PM
- 1500 = 3 PM
- 1600 = 4 PM
- 1700 = 5 PM
- 1800 = 6 PM
- 1900 = 7 PM
- 2000 = 8 PM
- 2100 = 9 PM
- 2200 = 10 PM
- 2300 = 11 PM
No. We do not say 2400 when talking about midnight. The reason is because the clock starts at midnight. It does not end at midnight. So, since we count up from midnight, we start at 0000.
Writing time in Europe
The Europeans will use a dot instead of a colon.
4.10 instead of 4:10