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Telling the Time in Italian

Rules, Examples and Handy Phrases for Telling Time in Italian
Rules, Examples and Handy Phrases for Telling Time in Italian


In Italy and forgot your watch back at the hotel? Need to know if you're on track to make it to the store or gallery before it closes? Here are some easy tips and phrases to make asking about the time easy during your stay in Italy.


"Che ora è" is one of the most common phrases in Italian used to find out "What time is it?"  If you need to keep track of time in Italy you can also ask, "Ha l'ora," which means "Have you got the time?" or "Che ora fai?" which loosely translates as "What time do you have?" In these cases "ora" (hour) substitutes for "time" in the English examples.


Of course, once you ask after the time you must be able to anticipate and decipher the answer. If someone says, “Faccio le tre” this means “It’s three o’clock” (literally translated the phrase means, “I make three o’clock.”) An even more common answer to expect is “E’ l’una” (“It’s one [or whatever number of the hour]”) or “Sono le sei,” which is another way to say the same thing, ie: “It’s six o’clock.”



Expressing Time in Italian

To name the time in Italian you need to use a definitive article like l’una, le due, le sei (one, two, six). The article is usually plural, only one o’clock, midday and midnight ("sono le sei", "è mezzogiorno") are singular. All forms are feminine because “ora” or “hour” is feminine.


In Italy you will usually find that there is an absence of the use of AM or PM. Instead Italians generally use 24 numbers, not 12, to tell the time. For example, three in the afternoon will often be described as 15:00; you can also say “Sono le tre di pomeriggio” or “It is three in the afternoon.” Similarly words like “mattina,” “sera” and “notte” (morning, evening, night) are used to indicate the time of day. So, for example, one could say “Ci vediamo alle sette di sera,” which means, “See you at seven tonight.”



Times of Day

To get a better understanding of when to use morning, afternoon, evening or night, we have broken down day for you: 

Morning – di mattina – From 4am to 12pm

Afternoon – di pomeriggio – From 1pm to 5 or 6pm

Evening – di sera – From 6 or 7pm to 11pm

Night – di notte – From 11pm to 3am


Sono le tre pomeridiane = It's three o'clock in the afternoon.

E' l'una di notte = It’s one o’clock in the morning.

E’ l’una del pomeriggio = It's one o'clock in the afternoon.

E' mezzogiorno = It's midday/noon.

E' mezzogiorno e mezzo = It's half past twelve.

E' mezzanotte = It's midnight.

E' mezzanotte e mezzo = It's half past midnight.

E' presto, è tardi = It's early, it's late.

Sono le nove di mattina o del mattino = It is nine in the morning. Note: Italians use both mattino (masculine) or mattina (feminine) to express morning. Either is correct.

Sono le undici di sera o le 23 = It is eleven o'clock at night (11pm).



Dropping the “Ora”

To make talking more expedient you can drop the “ora” from your sentence. Instead of saying “L’aereo parte alle ore 18.00” you can say “L’aereo parte alle 18.00” (“The plane leaves at six o’clock.”)

Claudia è partita alle (ore) 8 questa mattina = Claudia left at 8 o'clock a.m or eight o’clock this morning.



Fractions of Hours

To express fractions like half past or quarter to the formula is as follows:

e="color:#333333; font-family:helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:10pt">E = Past while Meno = To

“Sono le 4 e 25” = “It is four twenty-five.”

“Sono le 14 e dieci” = “It is ten past two.”

“Sono le 10 meno 5” = “It is five minutes to ten.”

“Quattro meno 5” = “Five to four.”

“Mancano dieci minuti alle otto” = “It is ten to eight.”


Un quarto (“a quarter”) = 15

Mezza (“half”) = 30

Tre quarti (“three quarters”) = 45

“Le 5 meno un quarto” = “A quarter to five.”

“Manca un quarto alle cinque” = “It is a quarter to five.”

“Un quarto alle tre” = “Sono le 2.45” = “It is two forty-five.”


When using midday/noon or midnight you don’t need an article. For example, you can just say “è mezzogiorno” or “it’s noon.” ie: “Franco è tornato a casa a mezzanotte e dieci” = “Franco came home at ten past midnight.”



Useful Expressions

family:helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:10pt">Scusi, che ora è? = Excuse me, what time is it?

A che ora? = At what time?

Alle nove = At nine o’clock.

Alle tre e mezzo = At half past three.

Alle sei precise = At six sharp.

Verso le sei = Around six

Due ore fa = Two hours ago.

Ogni 5 minuti = Every five minutes.

L'orologio va avanti/va indietro di tre minuti = The clock is three minutes fast/slow.

Mettere a posto l'orologio = To put the clock right.

Caricare l'orologio = To wind (up) the clock.

Il negozio è aperto dalle 9 alle 19 = The shop is open from 9am to 7pm.




Che ora è? Write in the correct time.

8:42 =

3:52 =

4:45 =

3:30 =

6:25 =

2:05 =


Check the answers at the bottom of this article:


By Elisa Bressan

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