Telling the time in English

There are two common ways to tell the time in English. The first version in the table below (analogue) is based on an analogue clock – we usually use this version with time increments of five minutes. The second version (digital) is based on a digital clock and is often more exact.

24 HourAnalogueDigital
6:00 six o’clock six o’clock
6:05 five past six six oh five*
6:15 a quarter past six six fifteen
6:20 twenty past six six twenty
6:30 half past six six thirty
6:31 twenty-nine minutes to seven six thirty-one
6:45 a quarter to seven six forty-five
6:50 ten to seven six fifty

* for the minutes from zero to nine we say oh plus the minutes.


In British English, we use past and to with 5 minute increments of time.

It’s twenty past eleven.
It’s twenty to twelve.

We use minutes to/past for increments of time between 5 minute divisions.

It’s ninteen minutes past eleven.
It’s twenty-one minutes to twelve.

We only use the expression o’clock on the hour.

It’s eleven o’clock.
It’s twenty past eleven. (not: It’s twenty past eleven o’clock)

The 12 Hour Clock

In everyday spoken English, we use the 12 hour clock. Through context, it is usually clear what time of day we are referring to.

I always wake up at 6 o’clock.

It would be unusual to wake up at 6 o’clock in the evening

We use the expression in the morning/afternoon/evening or at night to avoid misunderstandings.

I usually wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning.
He finishes work at 6 o’clock in the evening.
The train leaves at six o’clock in the morning and arrives at twenty past one in the afternoon.

We can also use am (Latin: ante meridiem = before midday) or pm (post meridiem = after midday) after the time. This is more formal.

departure: 6 am
arrival: 1:20 pm

Is it twelve o’clock in the morning or evening?

Some people find twelve o’clock confusing. Look at the examples below.

12:00 → midday/noon → twelve pm → twelve noon
00:00 → midnight → twelve am → twelve midnight

The 24 Hour Clock

The 24 hour clock is not very common in English. We use it in timetables, programmes and official documents/announcements.

The train leaves at 21:05.
Reception is open from 8:00 – 18:00.

Useful Vocabulary with Time Words

Expression Example
a moment ago He left a moment ago.
now What is Lucy doing now?
in a moment I’ll answer that question in a moment.
soon Michael and Madeline will be here soon.
later I’ll call you later.
sooner or later The truth will come out sooner or later.
never Ruby has never seen snow.
always I always brush my teeth before bed.
Expression Example
in ten minutes The train leaves in ten minutes.
in fifteen minutes I’ll be home in fifteen minutes.
in three quarters of an hour Dinner will be ready in three quarters of an hour.
in half an hour Her ran 10 km in half an hour.
in an hour School finishes in an hour.
in two hours The shops closes in two hours.
two hours ago I got here two hours ago.
after three hours He was tired after three hours of writing.