Ever have any trouble telling time when you were a child? For those of you belong to the digital clock generation, it may have been a bit difficult to learn to use a traditional analog timepiece. Due to the proliferation of digital technology, many Americans had the experience of already having understood time perfectly in the digital format, only to be taught in school how to do things the analog way. For those math geniuses out there this may not have been a problem, but for the rest of us mere mortals, this was perhaps a bit confusing. After all, if it’s 10:43 A.M., it’s ten forty-three A.M., right? Why bother saying ‘quarter ’til eleven’? Whether this was a traumatic experience for you or not, what is certain to cause some confusion is having to learn how to tell time in another language; today we’re going to talk about how to tell time in Spanish.


Telling Time in Spanish


¿Qué horas son?

Depending on the variety of Spanish you’re familiar with, you may have learned to ask what time it is either by saying ¿Qué hora es? or ¿Qué horas son?. Although both forms are officiallyconsidered correct by the Real Academia Española, the former option is considered to be more adequate. However, it is acceptable to use the latter form when using the expression ¿Qué horas son éstas? meaning that it is an inappropriate time to do something.


The Twelve-Hour Clock

Just like in the US, in Spanish time can be expressed with a twelve-hour clock. In doing so, the ver ser is used, both in the singular for when it’s one o’clock and in the plural form for all other numbers:

Es la una./Son las tres.


Hours can be partitioned into fourths using the expressions en punto, on the hour; y cuarto, quarter after; y media, thirty; and menos cuarto, quarter ’til:

A las tres en punto./A las tres y cuarto./A las tres y media./A las tres menos cuarto.


When using the twelve-hour clock it is often necessary to specify the time of day to which  your referring in order to avoid possible confusion with times that could easily be the morning or the evening. This can de done by adding the following:

de la mañana = from sunrise to midday (or also including from midnight to sunrise)

de la tarde = from midday to sunset

de la noche = from sunset to midnight

de la madrugada = from midnight to sunrise

Las cinco de la mañana./Las cinco de la tarde./Las diez de la noche./Las tres de la madrugada.


The Twenty-Four-Hour Clock

Quite unlike the US, in Spain the twenty-four-hour clock is also used regularly. At first this takes a little getting-used-to, but after a while you get the hang of it. Remember that all you need to do to figure out the hour is subtract twelve. This is particularly easy when dealing with numbers thirteen to nineteen because you can just drop the one and subtract two. The other hours may seem a bit stranger — eight being twenty, nine being twenty one, and so forth.

When speaking Spaniards typically say the time in the twelve-hour format, but when it comes to written communication, thetwenty-four-hour clock is preferred. The correct way to write the time is the same as in English, of course. There is the tendency, however, to use a period to separate the hour from the minutes, although a colon is also considered correct. When using this clock, it is not correct, though, to include AM or PM, but rather h for horas:

7.30 h // 12.07 h // 15.23 // 17 h // 21.52 h


Its Time

Aside from having to learn the numbers (if you haven’t done so already) there’s not much to telling time in Spanish. If you’re planning on heading to Spain in the near future, perhaps you’ll want to change your clocks to the twenty-four-hour version in order to get used to the format. Other than that you’re on your way. Once you’ve got it down, though, remember not rush, because as they say, ¡Las prisas son para delincuentes y toreros malos!