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Telling the Time in Italian: A Complete Guide for Beginners 📚 + FREE PDF

Knowing how to tell the time in Italian is an essential skill. This comprehensive guide includes everything you need to know.

by Michele
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Telling the time in Italian
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In a world dominated by digital clocks and notifications, the art of telling time might feel like a thing of the past. But aspetta un momento! (hold on a second!). As we’ve seen with asking for directions in Italian, technology can sometimes fail us. So, knowing how to ask and tell time in Italian can really come in handy!

Once you learn all the key formulas, you’ll never have an excuse for being late or miss an appointment because you have no clue what time it is. And trust me, with this guide, mastering time-telling in Italian will be simpler than you think!

But first, make sure to download your free PDF cheat-sheet, which includes all the key points we’ll cover in this guide. Just enter your email below and I’ll send it to you straight away.

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By the way, want to improve your Italian quickly and having fun doing it? I thought so! If you’re a beginner, I recommend Intrepid Italian, my comprehensive self-paced programme that teaches you through the power of my unique 80/20 method. The course covers everything you need to know as a beginner in Italian. Join now for lifetime access and my 30-Day “Celebrate with a Spritz” money-back guarantee by clicking here.

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Table to Contents

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide. Click on any title to jump to each section.

Why you should know how to tell the time in Italian

Time is a key element of everyday interactions and activities. So, being able to tell the time in Italian and understand time-related expressions is just as important as knowing Italian greetings, most commonly used Italian words or the days of the week.  

For instance, imagine you’re driving through the countryside, your phone’s dead, and you need to ask a local for the time. You’d want to say something like Mi sa dire l’ora per favore? (Can you tell me the time, please?), as showcased in a hilarious joke by Italian actor Gigi Proietti. Or picture this: you’re visiting your Italian colleagues and need to explain that you’re in ritardo di un’ora (an hour late) for a meeting because of a transport strike. And what if you can’t find the opening hours of that charming restaurant you’ve had your eye on since you booked your trip to Venice? You’d need to ask A che ora aprite? (What time do you open?) when you call to inquire.

By the way, before you dive into this guide, it’s a good idea to brush up on Italian numbers. After all, you can’t tell time if you can’t count, right?

5 ways to talk about time in Italian

First off, let’s clear up a point of potential confusion. Italians don’t just have one word for “time” like in English. They have five main ones, each with its own meaning. Understanding their differences is key for using them right:

  1. Tempo: this versatile term encompasses the broad concept of time itself, such as in the phrase Il tempo guarisce tutte le ferite (Time heals all wounds). Moreover, it also denotes duration, as in Quanto tempo starai via? (How long will you be away?), and it it extends to describing weather conditions, but we’ll save that for another guide.
  2. Ora: this is your go-to word when you need to pinpoint a specific time, like A che ora ci vediamo? (What time do we meet? literally, at what time do we meet?) or to talk about what’s happening right this moment, as in Vengo appena posso, ora sono al lavoro (I’ll be there as soon as I can, I’m at work right now). Plus, fixed expressions like non vedo l’ora (I can’t wait, literally, I can’t see the hour) or è ora di… fare qualcosa (it’s time to… do something) are also commonly used in Italian.
  3. Orario: coming from ora (time), this term refers to the specific time of something, or to a timetable. For example: Mi dai l’orario di settimana prossima? (Can you give me next week’s timetable?)
  4. Volte: this term is used to describe how often something occurs, as in Vado in palestra tre volte a settimana (I go to the gym three times a week). It’s similar to the English word, times.
  5. Momento: this is the appropriate term when you want to talk about a specific point in time, for example: È un buon momento per parlare? (Is it a good time to talk?). It’s similar to the English word, moment.

How to ask what time is it in Italian?

If you’re in Italy and need to check the time, the first thing you’ll want to know is how to ask what time it is in Italian, right? Well, here are some key ways to do just that, depending on the context and how formal you want to sound. Remember to begin by saying Scusa (Excuse me, informal) or Scusi (Excuse me, formal) to be polite.

  • Che ora è?/Che ore sono?: these are the two basic questions for asking the time in Italian. Both mean “What time is it?” and are interchangeable. The only difference lies in their literal meaning: Che ora è is singular (What hour is it?), while Che ore sono is plural (What hours are they?). These questions are suitable for both formal and informal situations.
  • Potrebbe/Potresti dirmi l’ora?: translating to “Could you (formal/informal) tell me the time?”, this phrase adds a touch of elegance, perfect for moments when you want to keep it classy!
  • Mi sa/Mi sai dire l’ora?: this is another polite way to ask for the time in Italian, this time using the verb sapere (to know). Similar to the previous phrase, this question translates to “Can you tell me the time?”, literally, “Do you know to tell me the time?”.
  • Sai l’ora?/Sa l’ora?: literally translating to “Do you know the time?”, this is a more relaxed approach, ideal for casual conversations where you don’t want to interrupt the flow but still need a quick time check.
  • A che ora è…? /A che ora comincia…?: these questions translate to “At what time is…” and “At what time does… start?” respectively and come in handy for planning things while you’re in Italy. For example, A che ora è il prossimo treno per Bari? (What time is the next train to bari?).
  • Fino a che ora…?: this translate to “Until what time…?” and is super useful for finding out how long something is going to last. For instance, Fino a che ora c’è sciopero dei mezzi? (Until what time is the transport strike?) – alas, a key sentence to add to your repertoire of Italian travel phrases.

Telling the time in Italian - How to ask what the time is

How to tell the time in Italian

Now that you’ve asked the question, it’s time to understand the answer. While it’s typical to rely on phones or watches to indicate the time to foreigners, Italians often express it verbally, making it essential to understand their responses. So, let’s explore how Italians tell the time, ensuring you’re fully equipped to understand their replies.

How to talk about hours in Italian

In Italian, hours are feminine and are always preceded by the definite article le (the). The structure for expressing them revolves around three main elements: the verb essere (to be), the article, and the numbers:

Sono + le + the corresponding number on the clock

For example:
A: Scusi, potrebbe dirmi l’ora per favore? (Excuse me, could you tell me the time, please?)
B: Certo, sono le quattro (Sure, it’s four o’clock).

This structure applies to all hours, except 1 o’clock, which is singular: È l’una (It’s one o’clock). When specifying a particular hour, you must use the preposition alle (at), as in the sentence Le lezioni cominciano alle 8 del mattino (Classes start at 8 in the morning). Again, if it’s 1 o’clock, you need to switch to the singular, as in: La riunione è all’una (The meeting is at one o’clock).

Now, let’s explore the two main standards for expressing time in Italian: the 12 and 24-hour clock.

How to use the 12-hour time format

The 12-hour time format uses numbers 1 to 12 and is the most commonly used for everyday conversations. Essentially, after twelve, the count restarts – one, two, three, etc. Here’s how time is expressed using this system:

Time English Italian
1:00 It’s one o’clock / At one o’clock È l’una / All’una
2:00 It’s two o’clock / At two o’clock Sono le due / Alle due
3:00 It’s three o’clock / At three o’clock Sono le tre / Alle tre
4:00 It’s four o’clock / At four o’clock Sono le quattro / Alle quattro
5:00 It’s five o’clock / At five o’clock Sono le cinque / Alle cinque
6:00 It’s six o’clock / At six o’clock Sono le sei / Alle sei
7:00 It’s seven o’clock / At seven o’clock Sono le sette / Alle sette
8:00 It’s eight o’clock / At eight o’clock Sono le otto / Alle otto
9:00 It’s nine o’clock / At nine o’clock Sono le nove / Alle nove
10:00 It’s ten o’clock / At ten o’clock Sono le dieci / Alle dieci
11:00 It’s eleven o’clock / At eleven o’clock Sono le undici / Alle undici
12:00 It’s twelve o’clock / At twelve o’clock  Sono le dodici / Alle dodici**

** Note: at 12:00 pm, Italians also say mezzogiorno (noon), while at 12:00 am, you can also say mezzanotte (midnight). 

Unlike English, which distinguishes between “am” (from the Latin “ante meridiem,” meaning before noon) and “pm” (from the Latin “post meridiem,” meaning after noon), in Italian, when using the 12-hour clock, it’s common to provide additional context to specify the exact time of day being referred to, as it may not always be immediately clear.

These are the main times of day in Italian:

  • di mattina (in the morning), between 6:00am and 12:00pm
  • del pomeriggio (in the afternoon), between 1:00pm and 6:00pm
  • di sera (in the evening), between 7:00pm and 12:00am
  • di notte (at night), between 1:00am and 5:00am

Example sentences:

  • Devo vedermi con Paola a mezzogiorno – I have to meet with Paola at noon.
  • Ho sentito un forte rumore all’1 di notte, pensavo fosse un ladro! – I heard a loud noise at 1 in the morning, I thought it was a thief!
  • Fino a che ora resta aperta la discoteca? Fino alle 3 del mattino – Until what time does the club stay open? Until 3 in the morning.

Telling the time in Italian - The 12 hour clock system in Italian

How to use the 24-hour time format

The 24-hour time format uses numbers ranging from 1 to 24 and is regarded as more formal. It’s typically used in professional environments or schedules such as for transportation, theatre and cinema to avoid any potential ambiguity. Having already covered the hours from 1 to 12 in the previous table, let’s now focus on the range of 13 to 23:

Time English Italian
1:00 It’s one am / At one am È l’una / All’una
2:00 It’s two am / At two am  Sono le due / Alle due
3:00 It’s three am / At three am Sono le tre / Alle tre
4:00 It’s four am / At four am Sono le quattro / Alle quattro
5:00 It’s five am / At five am Sono le cinque / Alle cinque
6:00 It’s six am / At six am Sono le sei / Alle sei
7:00 It’s seven am / At seven am Sono le sette / Alle sette
8:00 It’s eight am / At eight am Sono le otto / Alle otto
9:00 It’s nine am / At nine am Sono le nove / Alle nove
10:00 It’s ten am / At ten am Sono le dieci / Alle dieci
11:00 It’s eleven am / At eleven am Sono le undici / Alle undici
12:00 It’s twelve am / At twelve am Sono le dodici / Alle dodici
13:00 It’s one pm / At one pm Sono le tredici / Alle tredici
14:00 It’s two pm / At two pm  Sono le quattordici / Alle quattordici
15:00 It’s three pm / At three pm Sono le quindici / Alle quindici
16:00 It’s four pm / At four pm Sono le sedici / Alle sedici
17:00 It’s five pm / At five pm Sono le diciassette / Alle diciassette
18:00 It’s six pm / At six pm Sono le diciotto / Alle diciotto
19:00 It’s seven pm / At seven pm Sono le diciannove / Alle diciannove
20:00 It’s eight pm / At eight pm Sono le venti / Alle venti
21:00 It’s nine pm / At nine pm Sono le ventuno / Alle ventuno
22:00 It’s ten pm / At ten pm Sono le ventidue / Alle ventidue
23:00 It’s eleven pm / At eleven pm Sono le ventitré / Alle ventitré
24:00 It’s twelve pm / At twelve pm È mezzanotte / A mezzanotte

Example sentences :

  • Lo studio del medico è aperto dal lunedì al venerdì, fino alle venti – The doctor’s office is open Monday through Friday, until eight pm.
  • Il supermercato è aperto tutti i giorni fino a mezzanotte – The supermarket is open every day until midnight.
  • La chiamo per confermare l’appuntamento con l’Avvocato Bianchi domani alle 17:00 – I’m calling to confirm your appointment with Lawyer Bianchi tomorrow at 5:00 pm.
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Telling the time in Italian - The 24 hour clock system in Italian - Part 1 Telling the time in Italian - The 24 hour clock system in Italian - Part 2

How to say ‘o’clock in Italian

In Italian, there isn’t a direct equivalent for the English “o’clock.” Instead, you simply state the time. For added precision, you can use the expression in punto (sharp) to denote exactness. This is typically employed when emphasizing that the time is precisely as stated. In casual conversations, you can also hear Italians say spaccate (sharp).

Example sentences :

  • Oh, ci vediamo alle tre spaccate, non un minuto più tardi! – Hey, see you at three pm sharp, not a minute later!
  • Mi raccomando, ricordati che il tour guidato inizia alle 9:00 in punto domani mattina! – Please remember, the guided tour starts at 9:00 sharp tomorrow morning!
  • Il prossimo autobus per Pisa parte alle 14:00 in punto! – The next bus to Pisa departs at 2:00 pm sharp!

How to tell the minutes in Italian

In Italian, the minutes following the hour are indicated by the numbers from one to sixty, without explicitly saying the word minuti (minutes). To express time with the hour and minutes, Italians use the following structures:

Minutes past the hour

Sono le / È l’ + the hour + e + the number of minutes

Example sentences :

  • Sono le diciannove e trentacinque – It’s seven thirty-five
  • È l’una e dieci – It’s ten past one
  • L’appuntamento è alle quindici e venti – The meeting is at three twenty pm 

Minutes to the hour

Up to 39 minutes past the hour, you can use the structure above that adds minutes after the hour. However, from 40 minutes past, it’s common in Italian to count down the minutes to the next hour. So, if the clock shows 7:55; in this case, you might hear Italians express this time in the following ways:

  • Sono le otto meno cinque – It’s 8 minus 5
  • Mancano cinque minuti alle otto – There are 5 minutes missing to 8
  • Sono le sette e cinquantacinque – It’s 7:55 (equally correct, but slightly less common and more formal)

Let’s consider another example. The time 8:40 can be expressed in three ways:

  • Sono le nove meno venti – It’s 9 minus 20
  • Mancano venti minuti alle undici – It’s twenty to eleven
  • Sono le dieci e quaranta – It’s ten forty

Rounding up minutes

Remember that, similar to English, Italian doesn’t always specify exact minutes in everyday contexts and instead expresses time as follows:

  • 18:03: Sono le sei passate – It’s past six
  • 18:23: Sono le sei e venti passate – It’s past six twenty
  • 18:57: Sono quasi le sette – It’s almost seven

How to say half past, quarter past, and quarter to in Italian

Similar to other languages, Italian also tends to round up the minutes to halves, quarters, and three quarters. There are only two new words to keep in mind in this case: mezza / mezzo (half past) and quarto (quarter):

  • 8:15: Sono le otto e un quarto – It’s a quarter past eight 
  • 8:30: Sono le otto e mezza or Sono le otto e mezzo (both mezza and mezzo are correct) – It’s half past eight 
  • 5:45: Sono le sei meno un quarto or Manca un quarto alle sei or Sono le cinque e tre quarti – These three expressions are interchangeable and mean “It’s a quarter to six.”

Note: In Italian youth slang, you might come across expressions like Ci vediamo alla mezza (literally, “We’ll see each other at the half” ), where la mezza (the half) refers to either 12:30 pm or 12:30 am. It may also indicate half-past any hour more in general.

Time-related vocabulary in Italian

Here’s a helpful list of Italian words commonly used in time-related conversations in Italian. Whether you’re arranging appointments or chatting about events, these terms will come in handy.

Italian English Example
Oggi Today La mostra inaugura oggi alle quindici (The exhibition opens today at 3 pm)
Domani Tomorrow Domani i negozi chiuderanno alle tredici (Shops will close at 1 pm tomorrow)
Dopodomani The day after tomorrow Ho una visita medica dopodomani alle tre meno un quarto (I have a doctor’s appointment the day after tomorrow at a quarter to three) 
Ieri Yesterday L’ho visto ieri intorno alle dieci di mattina (I saw him yesterday around 10 in the morning)
L’altro ieri The day before yesterday Sono partita l’altro ieri con il treno delle otto meno un quarto di sera (I left the day before yesterday on the seven forty-five pm train) 
Giorno Day Il giorno della mia laurea darò una festa, vi aspetto tutti da me alle ventuno! (On my graduation day, I’m throwing a party. I look forward to seeing you all at my place at 9:00 pm!)
Prima Before Se venite prima delle sette di mattina, si fanno gli affari migliori! (If you come before 7 am, you’ll get the best deals!)
Dopo After Sono rimasti posti disponibili solo dopo le quindici (There are some seats available only after 3 pm)
Presto Early Mi alzo sempre presto, prima delle sei (I always wake up early, before 6 am)
Tardi Late Sono arrivati tardi, alle dieci passate (They arrived late, past 10 o’clock)
Sempre Always Pranzo sempre a mezzogiorno in punto (I always have lunch at midday sharp)
Mai Never Non mi alzo mai prima delle otto (I never wake up before 8 am)
Di tanto in tanto From time to time Di tanto in tanto, mi piace andare all’ultimo spettacolo delle dieci e un quarto (From time to time, I like to go to the last show at 10:15 pm)
Durata Duration Lo spettacolo inizia alle cinque e mezza e ha una durata di circa 2 ore (The show starts at half past five and lasts about 2 hours)
Essere in anticipo To be early Il treno è in anticipo di dieci minuti, arriverà alle due meno venti (The train is ten minutes early, it will arrive at 1:40)
Essere in ritardo To be late Sono in ritardo di mezz’ora, iniziate senza di me (I’m running thirty minutes late, start without me)
Essere puntuali To be on time Laura è puntuale, arriva sempre in ufficio alle otto spaccate (Laura is on time, she always gets to the office right at 8 o’clock sharp)
Fine settimana Weekend Nel fine settimana il centro commerciale chiude alle venti e trenta (On weekends, the shopping center closes at 8:30 pm)
Orologio Clock L’orologio segna le diciotto in punto (The clock shows 6:00 pm sharp)
Tra un pò In a while Il museo apre tra un pò, verso le sedici (The museum will open in a little while, around 4:00 pm)

Telling the time in Italian - Time-related vocabulary in Italian

Italian expressions about time

The Italian language is rich with sayings and idiomatic expressions revolving around time. Here are some you might hear in everyday conversations:

Italian English
Il tempo vola Time flies
Tempo scaduto Time is over
Il tempo è testimone Time will tell
Dare tempo al tempo Let time run its course
Ogni cosa al suo tempo Everything in its own time
Perdere tempo To waste time
Ora di punta Peak time
A tempo debito In due time
Da tempo immemore In ages
Tempo permettendo Time permitting
Il tempo è denaro Time is money
Fare le ore piccole To stay up late
Meglio tardi che mai Better late than never
Uccidere il tempo To kill the time
Darsi tempo To give oneself time
Il tempo cura tutto Time heals everything
Dopo la pioggia viene il bel tempo After the rain, good weather will come

Telling the time in Italian - Italian expressions about time

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How to Tell the Time in Italian Cheat-Sheet! (Free PDF Download)

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How to tell the time in Italian - Plus Free PDF Cheat-Sheet

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