Grammar for Beginners – How to tell the time


We have a question for you…

What time is it in your city right now?

Today, Mike will help you learn how to tell the time in English. If you enjoy this lesson, you can find all of the information, plus speaking exercises, writing exercises, vocabulary exercises and more on the ABA English Course Unit 9 “The delay”.

Asking and telling the time

We use the pronoun “it” to talk about the time in English. Unlike some Latin languages where the pronoun referring to the hour can be plural if the hour is plural, in English it can’t.  Therefore to find out the time in English, we must ask the following:

“What time is it?”

And this is how we answer:

It is seven o’clock”

Note that the interrogative and indicative formats are very similar with the interrogative just being an inversion of the subject and verb. This is because we only use the verb to be with the time in present and do not use any other auxiliary verb

We use “o’clock” to talk about the hour on the dot.

“Quarter” and “half” with “past” and “to”

As you have seen, when we are talking about the time, we contract “it is” to “it’s”.

“Past” is used to tell the minutes after the hour. “To” is used to tell the minutes before the hour.

For example:

07:15 – “It’s a quarter past seven”

06:45 – “It’s a quarter to seven”

So… what does “quarter” mean? It means 15 minutes. A quarter of an hour is 15 minutes.

We use “half past” when the clock is on the 6.

For example:

08:30 – “It’s half past eight”

Using “A.M” or “P.M”

What do they mean?

A.M. – ante meridiem. We use it for times before midday.

P.M. – post meridiem. We use it for times after midday.


Let’s do a quick exercise! Tell us what the following times are:





Very good! You just learnt how to tell the time.


In Unit 9 “The delay”, you will meet Jim and Charles. Find out why Jim is a great work colleague!


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