Telling Time

Telling time in Italian
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Leggere l’ora

Knowing how to tell time in Italian is essential for traveling, meeting up with friends, making appointments, and getting to work or school on time. Once you learn these formulas, you’ll never have an excuse to be late again!

Italian time

There are three Italian translations for "time," each with a different meaning.

l’ora time as in telling time
Che ora è? What time is it?
il tempo time as in a period of time
Ho passato un po’ di tempo qui. I spent some time here.
la volta time as in an instance
L’ho fatto una volta. I did it one time.

 Only ora is needed for this lesson, and only when asking what time it is.

Italian numbers

The foundation of telling time is knowing the Italian numbers 1 through 24. Why not just 12? In Italian, time is usually based on the 24-hour clock, like military time. Instead of 1 to 11 a.m., followed by 12 to 11 p.m., the clock continues counting up from 12, so that 1 p.m. is 13, 2 p.m. is 14, all the way up to 24.

Midnight itself can be stated as mezzanotte, 24.00, or 0.00, but one minute later, 24 disappears: 0.01, 0.02, etc.

 You absolutely need to be able to understand the 24-hour clock, and it’s better to use it when speaking about time. But in a pinch you can get by with these phrases instead:
  • del mattino / di mattina – literally, "of the morning," equivalent to a.m.
  • del pomeriggio – "of the afternoon" (1 to 5 p.m.)
  • di sera – "of the evening" (6 to 11 p.m.)
  • di notte – "of the night" (midnight to 3 a.m.)

Telling time in Italian

To ask "What time is it?" you need the verb essere (to be). It can be in the third person singular or plural, to match ora (singular) or ore (plural). Both of these questions are equally correct:

  • Che ora è?
  • Che ore sono?

When answering the question, however, you can use the singular conjugation only for one o’clock, noon, and midnight:

It’s one o’clockÈ l’una. 1.00
It’s noonÈ mezzogiorno. 12.00
It’s midnightÈ mezzanotte. 0.00

For two o’clock and up, the verb has to be plural, as does the definite article:

It’s two o’clockSono le due. 2.00
It’s 3:15Sono le tre e un quarto.
Sono le tre e quindici.
It’s 4:30Sono le quattro e mezzo / mezza.*4.30
It’s 4:45Sono le quattro e quarantacinque.
Sono le cinque meno un quarto.
It’s 5:10Sono le cinque e dieci. 5.10
It’s 6:50Sono le sei e cinquanta.
Sono le sette meno dieci.
It’s 7:20Sono le sette e venti.7.20
It’s 8:40Sono le otto e quaranta.
Sono le nove meno venti.
It’s 8 a.m.Sono le otto (del mattino / di mattina) 8.00
It’s 5 p.m.Sono le diciasette.17.00
It’s 8 p.m.Sono le venti.20.00

* Mezzo and mezza, meaning "half," are equally correct here.

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Italian what time is it