French Grammar: Telling Time – The 24-Hour Clock (L’Heure Officielle)

French Grammar: Telling Time - The 24-Hour Clock (L’Heure Officielle)

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French Grammar: Telling Time – The 24-Hour Clock
le grammaire français: l’heure officielle


In France, as well as most other European countries, time is usually expressed on a 24-hour clock (what we in the United States generally refer to as “military time”).  The 24-hour system is called “L’Heure Officielle” in French.  It is especially used in public announcements such as timetables, bus/train/plane schedules, movie/television/radio listings, sporting events, and business hours of operation.  So it’s important to be able to understand and tell the time according to the 24-hour system!

When indicating 12-hour clock times (as we usually do in English), you will use such phrases as:

“du matin” – A.M.
“de l’après-midi” – P.M.  (from noon until 6:00p.m.)
“du soir” – P.M.  (from 6:00p.m. until midnight)

However, these phrases are NOT used when expressing time according to the 24-hour system.

With the 24-hour clock, the words “minuit”, “midi”, “quart”, and “demi(e)” are not used, and the number of minutes is expressed by a full number.  Unlike in the 12-hour system, minutes are never subtracted from an hour in the 24-hour system.  Instead, minutes are always added to the hour.

12-hour clock –> 12:00p.m. : Il est douze heures (de l’après-midi). / Il est midi.
24-hour clock –> 12h00 : Il est douze heures Il est midi.

12-hour clock –> 1:15p.m. : Il est une heure et quart (de l’après-midi)
24-hour clock –> 13h15 : Il est treize heures quinze.

12-hour clock –> 5:30p.m. : Il est cinq heures (de l’après-midi).
24-hour clock –> 17h30: Il est dix-sept heures trente.

12-hour clock –> 9:45p.m. : Il est dix heures moins le quart (du soir).
24-hour clock –> 21h45 : Il est vingt et une heures quarante-cinq.

12-hour clock –> 12:00a.m. : Il est douze heures (du matin). Il est minuit.
24-hour clock –> 24h00 : Il est vingt-quatre heures.

12-hour clock –> 12:10a.m. : Il est douze heures dix (du matin). Il est minuit dix.
24-hour clock –> 00h10 : Il est zéro heures dix.

NOTE:  24-hour time can also be written as “12.00”, “13.15”, etc.

To calculate 24-hour time, add 12 to the 12-hour system time for the hours between noon and midnight:

3:45a.m. = 03h45
3:45p.m. = 15h45
6:30p.m. = 18h30

To calculate 12-hour time, subtract 12 from the 24-hour system for the hours between noon and midnight:

14h30 = 2:30p.m.
23h20 = 11:20p.m.


À quelle heure commence le film?
At what time does the movie begin?

Le film commence à vingt et une heures cinq.
The film begins at 21 h 05 (9:05p.m.).

À quelle heure ouvre la banque?
At what time does the bank open?

La banque ouvre à neuf heures.
The bank opens at 9:00a.m.

À quelle heure ferme la banque?
At what time does the bank close?

La banque ferme à dix-huit heures.
The bank closes at 18 h 00 (6:00p.m.).

Le train arrive à quelle heure?
The train arrives at what time?

Le train arrive à vingt-trois heures trente-cinq.
The train arrives at 23 h 35 (11:35 p.m.).