I am writing this article because I believe that talking about the time is one of those topics you can use to break the ice or start a small talk in Italian or when in Italy.
This is a topic which is often overlooked, while should be not. Anyone can ask you what time is in for any number of reasons during your trips to Italy, and you want to be prepared to answer in the best way.
First things first, the word time has two primary meanings in Italian.
The time, as a period, translates in Italian into tempo
The time, by the clock, translates in Italian into ora
how to say in Italian “what time is it”
When you want to ask someone what time it is in Italian you should say:
Che ore sono?
As you might notice by yourself, both the word “ore” and the verb “essere” appear in its plural form. This makes sense, because the time in Italian is plural, as numbers are plural.
The answer to “che ore sono” is:
- Sono le (any time of the day)
- Sono le 9 – it’s 9 am (or 9 pm)
There are few exceptions to the rule and involve the number 1, which is, by any means, singular.
- E’ l’una → it’s 1 am (or 1 pm)
- E’ mezzogiorno → it’s noon
- E’ mezzanotte → it’s midnight
Don’t forget that the 24h usage is widespread in Italy, especially when it comes to set appointments or in formal situations, like in the workplace. A train or plane ticket will use the 24h system too.
Nevertheless, the 12h usage is also widely accepted informal situations.
For instance, it is common to say
- Le 9 di mattina – 8am (9in the morning)
- Le 9 di sera – 8 pm (9 in the night)
How to count minutes when saying the time in Italian?
Until 35 five minutes past, you can use the following pattern
- Sono le 9 e cinque – 9:05
- Sono le 9 e dieci – 9:10
- Sono le 9 e quindici – 9:15
- Sono le 9 e venti – 9:20
- Sono le 9 e venticinque – 9:25
- Sono le 9 e trenta – 9:30
- Sono le 9 e trentacinque – 9:35
With quarter and half, the following pattern is preferred.
Sono le 9 e un quarto – 9:15
Sono le 9 e mezzo – 9:30
- Sono le 9 meno 20 – 8:40
- Sono le 9 meno 15 – 8:45
- Sono le 9 meno 10 – 8:50
- Sono le 9 meno 5 – 8:55
With the quarter minus the following pattern is preferred:
- Sono le 9 meno un quarto – 8:45
how to say in Italian “what time…?”
If you need to meet an Italian friend, you need to ask her what time you are going to meet, in Italian, right?
The question slightly changes from the previous one, and, it is:
- A che ora….?
And the answer is…
- A che ora ci vediamo domani sera? – What time do we meet tomorrow night?
- Alle 20 – At 8(pm)
The adverb “verso”
When asking someone what time you should do something, an Italian person might reply by using the adverb “verso” right before the time.
- A che ora ci vediamo domani? – What time are we meeting tomorrow?
- Verso le 10 – at around 10, tenish
Note that you are not using the preposition alle, but the adverb verso + the article le
The expression “in punto“
Another common Italian time expression is “in punto”.
- Che ore sono? – What time is it?
- Sono le 10 in punto – It’s ten (in punto means that it’s precisely 10)
Other frequent Italian expressions involving the word “time”
- Have you got the time? – hai l’ora esatta?
- On time (person) → puntuale
- On time (train) – in orario
- Just in time – appena in tempo