Lesson 6 – How to Tell Time in Spanish – Use Ser

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Another important use of the Spanish verb Ser is to tell time.

When telling time in Spanish, there are only two conjugations of Ser that you will use:

Es (singular)
Son (plural)

If you haven’t already studied numbers in Spanish, then do so now: Learn Spanish Numbers.

Okay, here’s how to you tell time in Spanish:

Es la una (It’s 1 o’clock)
Son las dos (It’s 2 o’clock)
Son las tres (It’s 3 o’clock)
Son las cuatro (It’s 4 o’clock) … all the way until … Son las doce (It’s 12 o’clock).

Now to express minutes:

Use Spanish numbers from 1-30, but for 15 (say “cuarto”) and for 30 (say “media”). For example:

Es la una y doce. (It’s 1:12)
Son las nueve y cuarto. (It’s 9:15)
Son las once y media. (It’s 11:30)

Now for minutes from 31-59, don’t use the corresponding Spanish number. Instead, you’re going to express the next hour and how many minutes you subtract to get to the time. Sounds complicated but it’s not. For example:

It’s 2:40. This would be: Son las tres menos veinte. (menos = minus or less).
It’s 5:45. This would be: Son las seis menos cuarto.

Now to express whether it’s A.M. or P.M. add the following:

de la mañana (in the morning)
de la tarde (in the afternoon/evening)
de la noche (at night)

Son las siete y trece de la mañana. (It’s 7:13 a.m)

For a more comprehensive discussion of telling time in Spanish, visit the OuterSpanish Telling Time page

5 Responses to “Lesson 6 – How to Tell Time in Spanish – Use Ser”

  1. Sara Vasquez says:

    My daughter is going to a school that is using that same way of telling time as you show here. Unfortunately I lived in South America and also Central America and the way that you are teaching to tell time is not used any where. not even in Spain people uses “las tres menos veinte” to sayr 2:40. It would be a good idea to use a recognizable way of telling time if you are trying to teach the language to people that has no clue.

    If you go to any Spanish speaking Country and say “Son las tres menos veinte…” they will look at you like you are Pretending to speak a language…

    It is just a comment from sombody that has knowledge on the proper way to speak Spanish.


  2. sonny says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the comment. Would you mind explaining then what is the proper way of telling time in Spanish? If you are by chance referring to the use of military time, then I do teach this method here: http://www.outerspanish.com/grammar/time.htm. This link can be found at the end of this posting, in fact, where I state that for a more comprehensive discussion on telling time in Spanish to click on the link.

    However, if there is a completely different way of telling time in Spanish, then I’d be very interested in hearing about it since I have never heard of a third way to tell time. All schools teach telling time in the form of “Son las tres menos veinte” to express 2:40pm. This is grammatically correct Spanish. It doesn’t mean, however, that people speak grammatically correct. Every language has a colloquial form that people choose to speak in. In Brasil, for example, spoken Portuguese is very different than its correct grammatical form.

    Again, as I say above, there is the military way of telling time, and in that case, it wouldn’t be “Son las tres menos veinte,” rather, it would be “Son las dos y cuarenta.” Military time is frequently used in other countries outside the United States, and it’s possible this is what you’re referring to. Both ways of telling time are grammatically correct. But no one in the United States (outside of the military) expresses time in the military form, and that is probably why here in the United States they focus more on teaching to tell time like I did in this posting. However, in my main Spanish site, I do cover military time.


  3. Sara Vasquez says:

    Dear Sonny;

    Thank you very much for your fast response. I am not talking about a “third” way of telling time in Spanish and it is not consider a colloquial way.

    If you want to say 4:35 PM in Spanish you will say “Son las Cuatro y Treinta y cinco de la tarde” or 16:35 “Las diesiseis con treinta y cinco…”
    That is the way people all over South America and most of the “educated” people of Central America and also in Spain (not including Brazil in South America since as you know, they do not speak Spanish ) say the time. I have to admit that in countries like Mexico the Spanish language is changed becoming more colloquial due to so many and different cultural levels and I am a little afraid that since we are having such a strong influence from Mexico, it is from places like that that you are getting this “Not incorrect” but not proper way of telling time. One of the biggest issues with the Spanish Language is that even if something is grammatically correct does not mean it is “correct” at all, grammar is only one of a few elements that creates the Spanish language, you have to make sure that the sentence as a whole is in tune with the grammar, the spelling and the correct sense of what you are trying to communicate. If not by just translating from English to Spanish you will have an almost correct sentence in front of you, which as you well know is not true.

    I lived in South America, Central America and Europe for over 25 years (I even studied languages in a Specialized German School in South America which will give you the idea that I have a real good knowledge of the proper Spanish used to communicate through out the world, since german people will not do anything half way, they made 100% sure to teach us the “correct and proper way of speaking the Spanish language… ) just the fact that I have lived and studied Spanish in the Spanish speaking world give me the inside to tell you what I know as a fact, and if I honestly can say that I heard people used “Son las Cinco menos Veinte y Cinco” to say 4:35 PM twice is a lot.

    Please understand that I am not considering your ways “wrong” , I just wanted you to know that unfortunately you are using a as you said “colloquial” way to teach how to tell time in Spanish.

    My only intention is to let you know of the issues that are happenig due to the missconception of a language that is a lot more complicated than it is believed to be.


    Sara Vasquez

    PS: I am extremely happy with all the rest of the information that I was able to read in your webpage, it is a great way to get knowledge of the Spanish language.

  4. lourdes says:


    I am a native Mexican I give Spanish lessons as a hobby while I am doing my Masters in London, I am afraid to tell you that both your ways are not exactly how people speak at least in Mexico we indeed, like Sara says never say 16.40 as cinco menos veinte people would not understand this as is not common, however I have heard while living in europe among Spanish people.

    In mexico we say 16.40 veinte para las cinco and so on, however I cannot find any exercises on the web with this model of time telling, and is complicated as I am currently teaching an English person looking to move to Mexico city and this sort of time telling just will not do in Mexico.

  5. Kimber Hawkey says:

    As far as I remember when living in Spain, it was totally understandable to use the “menos” if you wanted.

    Another note is that some Latin American countries use “para” instead of “menos” Son las veinte para las cuatro.”

Leave a Reply