This is lesson 14 in Crashed Culture’s Spanish grammar series.
Spanish time phrases: using time expressions in Spanish
Spanish time phrases are almost exactly like the ones we use in English, which means time expressions in Spanish is not a difficult concept. As long as you’re already comfortable with numbers, learning Spanish time phrases is just a matter of learning some new vocab.
So let’s get right into it! Take a look at the vocab, and a couple little pieces of grammar, and you’re all set to go!
The grammar of how to tell time in Spanish
There’s two major points to this: first, we always use ser to talk about time (which we already know how to do). Second, we always use the feminine article (la). This is based off the word hora, meaning hour, which is feminine. For example:
|Es la una||It’s one o’clock|
|Son las dos||It’s two o’clock|
|Son las tres||It’s three o’clock|
Notice how we switch from ‘es la’ to ‘son las’ when the number is more than one? Good! As always, we have to match up our verbs and articles with our nouns; while time will always be feminine, the singularity/plurality of it depends on what the time is.
Oh, and also? It’s always “es la una“. Feminine has to match feminine!
Next: how to tell time in Spanish when there’s minutes:
|Es la una y veinte||It’s 1:20 | It’s twenty past one|
|Son las dos y nueve||It’s 2:09 | It’s nine past two|
|Son las tres y cuarenta y uno||It’s 3:41 | It’s forty-one past three|
See? The same rules as numbers. I realize nobody’s ever quite that specific about telling time, but you catch my drift!
Practice telling time in Spanish: subtracting minutes
Just like how we might say “it’s twenty minutes til four” or something along those lines in English, we use the word menos, or minus, in Spanish.
|Son las cinco menos diez||It’s ten minutes til five|
|Es la una menos veinte||It’s twenty minutes til one|
|Son las once menos diecisiete||It’s seventeen minutes til eleven|
If you want to get extra fancy (actually not really that fancy, just more vocab that you should absolutely be comfortable with), you can use the Spanish terms for “half past” and “quarter til”. This does make it significantly easier to talk about time:
|Son las dos y media||It’s half past two|
|Son las cinco y cuarto||It’s quarter past five|
|Son las siete menos cuarto||It’s quarter til seven|
And do be careful with the word cuarto…it is NOT cuatro. There’s a difference, and that difference is important!
Telling the time: Spanish vocab
Finally, it’s time to go over some basic phrases that’ll help you express yourself more fluently when it comes to telling the time in Spanish.
|Es la una de la mañana||It is one in the morning|
|Volvamos mañana por la mañana||We return tomorrow morning|
|Son las cuatro de la tarde||It is four in the afternoon|
|El concierto es el martes por la tarde||The concert is Tuesday afternoon|
|Son las nueve de la noche||It is nine in the evening|
|El restaurante abierta por la noche||The restaurant opens in the evening|
Let’s start with these. As you can tell, we use de la and por la for different reasons. Generally, when we’re talking about a specific time, we use de la. If we’re talking about a general time FRAME, though, we use por la.
This next batch of vocab is simpler, more straight-forward:
|pasado mañana||the day after tomorrow|
|la noche anterior||the night before last|
|el viernes que viene||next Monday|
|la semana pasada||last week|
|durante el día||during the day|
|a tiempo||on time|
|en punto||on the dot, sharp|
Del in Spanish & other contractions
Now, when you start making sentences with these phrases (and as you’ll see in this lesson’s flashcards), you’re going to come across a whole lot of “de el”s and “a el”s. Or, you’ve probably come across “del”s and “al”s before (see where I’m going with this?).
So, what does del mean in Spanish? It’s literally just a combination of de and el. Just like we contract cannot and do not into can’t and don’t, the Spanish language contracts a el into al and de el into del. For example:
Almorzamos al mediodía (We at lunch at noon)
Pizza es la comida del día (Pizza is the meal of the day)
Important: never, ever, EVER try to contract él. That accented letter is incredibly important. Él is a person. Él is a human. Don’t contract él. Only el.
Spanish time phrases are a walk in the park once you get them. That paired with a hint of good grammar, and you’re set. So, to review:
- Say “it’s __ o’clock” with son las __ (es la if it’s the 1 hour)
- Always use una when talking about the 1 hour
- Use y to add minutes to the hour
- Add menos to subtract minutes from the hour
- Use media to say half past
- Use cuarto to say quarter til or quarter past
- Contract a & el to make al, and de & el (not él!) to make del
Ready to move on?
Check out the next lesson: stem-changing verbs