How to Write and Tell the Time in English

By Mary Smith. Updated: November 28, 2017
How to Write and Tell the Time in English

Writing the hours in English is one of the first lessons non English speakers must learn when getting started with numbers in English. But it is also one of the first things non-native speakers forget. To write the time correctly, we just need to remember that during the first half hour we use 'past' and after the first half hour we use 'to'. We will illustrate this by reference to 12 hours.

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The hour, on the dot

To write and tell the time in English we must use o'clock with the time, so 12:00 becomes 12 o'clock or twelve o'clock.

You can also use MIDNIGHT for twelve o'clock at night and MIDDAY or MID MORNING for twelve o'clock in the morning. The rest are written as follows:

  • One o'clock
  • Two o'clock
  • Three o'clock
  • Four o'clock
  • Five o'clock
  • Six o'clock
  • Seven o'clock
  • Eight o'clock
  • Nine o'clock
  • Ten o'clock
  • Eleven o'clock

Use the hour quarters

If we want to write an hour with a quarter fragment how we do this will depend on whether it is 12:15 or 12:45. 12:15 is expressed as 'it is quarter past 12' where as 12:45 is referred to as 'it is quarter to 1'. In the picture, the clock says it is a quarter to 12 (11:45). There for 'past' hours will refer to the hour that has already begun (fifteen minutes passed after twelve o'clock), whereas the 'to' hours will refer to the hour that is coming (fifteen minutes until twelve o'clock).

In this sense you will write the quarters in English as follows:

Quarter past

  • Quarter past one (1:15)
  • Quarter past two (2:15)
  • Quarter past three (3:15)
  • Quarter past four (4:15)
  • Quarter past five (5:15)
  • Quarter past six (6:15)
  • Quarter past seven (7:15)
  • Quarter past eight (8:15)
  • Quarter past nine (9:15)
  • Quarter past ten (10:15)
  • Quarter past eleven (11:15)
  • Quarter past twelve (12:15)

Quarter to

  • Quarter to one (12:45)
  • Quarter to two (1:45)
  • Quarter to three (2:45)
  • Quarter to four (3:45)
  • Quarter to five (4:45)
  • Quarter to six (5:45)
  • Quarter to seven (6:45)
  • Quarter to eight (7:45)
  • Quarter to nine (8:45)
  • Quarter to ten (9:45)
  • Quarter to eleven (10:45)
  • Quarter to twelve (11:45)

Write the half hour

To correctly write the half hour you need only remember that the half is always seen to be past a certain hour. And so 12:30 is written 'it is half past 12'. Let's take a look at how to write each 'half past' time:

  • Half past one (1:30)
  • Half past two (2:30)
  • Half past three(3:30)
  • Half past four (4:30)
  • Half past five (5:30)
  • Half past six (6:30)
  • Half past seven(7:30)
  • Half past eight (8:30)
  • Half past nine (9:30)
  • Half past ten (10:30)
  • Half past eleven (11:30)
  • Half past twelve (12:30)

Now we give you the complete example

To give you a reference, we now write the full hour with 12 hrs, for your reference, so you know how to tell the time in English and learn how you write them:

  • 12:00, it is twelve o'clock
  • 12:05, it is five past twelve
  • 12:10, it is ten past twelve
  • 12:15, it is quarter past twelve
  • 12:20, it is twenty past twelve
  • 12:25, it is twenty-five past twelve
  • 12:30, it is half past twelve

Remember that, during the second half hour, we switch to 'to':

  • 12:35, it is twenty-five to one
  • 12:40, it is twenty to one
  • 12:45, it is quarter to one
  • 12:50, it is ten to one
  • 12:55, it is five to one
How to Write and Tell the Time in English - Now we give you the complete example

And if you want to know more

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There are also other basic lessons English language lessons for non-native speakers which you cannot miss out on, so we invite you to consult our articles:

If you want to read similar articles to How to Write and Tell the Time in English, we recommend you visit our Learning category.

  • When writing during the first half hour say the minutes past the hour.
  • When writing during the second half of the hour say the minutes remaining until the next hour.

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