Aerial view of the white cliffs in Etretat, Normandy photographed at sunset
French Articles

How to express dates and times in French?

By: Céline Bateman-Paris Thu Mar 21 2024
French
Expressions Of Time

To express the date in French, give the day of the week first, then the day of the month, followed by the name of the month, and finally the year.

Leur mariage sera le lundi 21 octobre 2024.

Their wedding will be on Monday, October 21, 2024.

To express time, you can either use a 24-hour-clock, to avoid misunderstandings, or use a 12-hour clock, which is more casual.

L’avion décollera à 14h40 / deux heures moins vingt de l’après-midi.

The plane will take off at 2:40 pm.

Whether you want to book a table in a restaurant, make an appointment, talk about your schedule, or discuss history, knowing how to understand, read, and write dates and times is crucial. Keep in mind the American and French ways of talking about time are very different!

Time is an abstract concept, but after reading this article, you will be incollable(very knowledgeable) about dates and times! You will also discover some useful and fun cultural facts thanks to our activities.

Ne perdons pas de temps, c’est parti !

Let’s not waste time, let’s go!

Table of Contents

    How to express the date in French?

    To express the date in French, you will use a combination of the day of the week, the day of the month, the name of the month, and the year. Below, we will highlight the differences between the American way of expressing the date (on the left) and the French way (on the right), using a more visual approach. This way, you can start from a familiar format and go towards something new! Let’s get going!

    How to ask for the date in French?

    There are many ways to ask for the date in French, because there are various ways of asking questions in French. You can ask using an impersonal question, like the English “What’s the date?” with quel(le) est(what is [formal]) or c’est(what is [informal]), or by using a personal question, which would literally translate to “What day are we?” These personal questions are formed using the subject pronouns nous(we) or on(one, we).

    Question Type
    French
    English

    Impersonal Question:

    Quelle est la date d’aujourd’hui ?

    C’est quoi la date aujourd’hui ?

    C’est quel jour ?

    What's the date today?

    Personal Question:

    Quel jour sommes-nous ?

    On est quel jour ?

    What day are we?

    You can answer these questions by repeating part of the question or by just giving the date.

    Question:

    Quel jour sommes-nous ?

    What day are we?

    • Answer 1:

      (Nous sommes/On est) le 20 mars.

      (We are) March 20th.

    • Answer 2:

      C’est le 20 mars.

      (It is) March 20th.

    Now you know how to ask for the date, so let’s see how dates work in French!

    How to say the full date in French?

    When expressing the full date for yourself, you’ll include the day, number, month, and year. A full date is given as follow:

    le

    day of the week

    day of the month
    (1 - 31)

    month

    year

    Il a eu son permis le mercredi 19 octobre 2022.

    He got his driving license on October 19th, 2022.

    Tip

    The only article that can be used before the day of the week or the day of the month is the masculine definite article le. This is because le is short for the phrase le jour(the day), and jour is masculine!

    You can of course omit some of these elements above. For instance, when you give your date of birth, you don’t usually mention the day of the week. Le(the) precedes the day of the week OR the day of the month when the day of the week is omitted.

    Elle est née le 6 décembre 1984.

    She was born on December 6, 1984.

    If the day of the week and day of the month are omitted, the article le is replaced by en(in)

    Elle est née en décembre 1984.

    She was born in December 1984.

    Let’s now have a look at all the elements of the date individually!

    What are the days of the week in French?

    The days of the week in French are lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, and dimanche. For the days of the week, the weekdays all end in -di, except "Sunday," which starts with di!

    French
    English

    lundi

    Monday

    mardi

    Tuesday

    mercredi

    Wednesday

    jeudi

    Thursday

    vendredi

    Friday

    samedi

    Saturday

    dimanche

    Sunday

    TipHave you noticed?

    There is no capital letter for days of the week, unless they are at the beginning of a sentence.

    Important

    Unlike in English, in French you don’t need a preposition, like sur(on), to introduce a day of the week when something happens:

    Vous travaillez vendredi ?

    Are you working (on) Friday?

    If you add le before the day of the week, it means the action happens on a weekly basis (for example, every Friday).

    Vous travaillez le vendredi ?

    Are you working (on) Fridays?

    Check out our article about French prepositions of time to learn more about this!

    When indicating the part of the day during which something will be done, use the prepositions dans or en:

    • dans + moment of the day

      Dans can be used with la matinée(the morning), l’après-midi(the afternoon), la soirée(the evening).

      On arrivera dans la matinée.

      We’ll arrive in the morning.

    • en + [début(beginning) / milieu(mid-) / fin de(end)] + moment of the day

      On se voit en fin d’aprèm !

      Let’s meet up late in the afternoon!

      Aprèm is short for après-midi.

    What are the months in French?

    The months in French are janvier, février, mars, avril, mai, juin, juillet, août, septembre, octobre, novembre, and décembre. Months are introduced by the preposition en. French students often struggle with the pronunciations of mars(March) and août(August), so pay attention to the pronunciation tips next to them!

    French
    English

    janvier

    January

    février

    February

    mars

    /mars/

    March

    avril

    April

    mai

    May

    juin

    June

    juillet

    July

    août

    /oot/

    August

    septembre

    September

    octobre

    October

    novembre

    November

    décembre

    December

    TipHave you noticed?

    Same as for days, there is no capital letter for months unless they are at the beginning of a sentence.

    If you want to specify the part of the month during which something is happening, you can do that using a long phrase (like “in the middle of the month of March”) or by using a shorter phrase (like “mid-March”). Why choose one over the other? They are both standard French, so it’s really up to you!

    English
    Short version
    (no preposition needed)
    Longer version

    beginning of January

    → début-janvier

    → au début du mois de janvier

    mid-January

    → mi-janvier

    → au milieu du mois de janvier

    → courant janvier

    end of January

    → fin-janvier

    → à la fin du mois de janvier

    Which numbers are used for the date?

    When specifying which number day of the month it is, use an ordinal number for the first day and then cardinal numbers for days 2-31.

    French
    English

    le premier

    1st

    le deux

    2nd

    le trois

    3rd

    le quatre

    4th

    ...

    ...

    le vingt-et-un

    21st

    le trente-et-un

    31st

    Ils sont arrivés le (mardi) 15.

    They arrived on (Tuesday) 15th

    How to say the year in French?

    There are two ways to read out the year in French, but the modern way consists of reading a year like a French cardinal number, starting with the thousands, followed by the hundreds, and so on. If you are interested in the old(er)-fashioned way, head over to our French dates and times reference sheet!

    Years can be introduced by the phrase en l’an…(in the year...) or just by the preposition en(in). It is not likely that you’ll need to write the date in letters but, just so you know, dashes are needed between each word.

    • C’était en quelle année ?

      What year was that in?

    • En mille-neuf-cent-quatre-vingt-dix-huit.

      In 1998.

    • Ce n’était pas en (l’an) deux-mille ?

      Wasn’t it in 2000?

    Exception!

    Vingt(twenty) and cent(hundred) are invariable when followed by another number:

    1980 → mille-neuf-cent-quatre-vingts

    1920 → mille-neuf-cent-vingt

    But they take an -s when multiplied (as long as they’re multiplied by more than one).

    1980 → mille-neuf-cent-quatre-vingts

    1900 → mille-neuf-cents

    1920 → mille-neuf-cent-vingt

    Mille(thousand) is invariable.

    ImportantWatch out for these common mistakes!

    In French, there aren’t more casual ways of referring to the year, like “twenty-twenty” or “the 80s.”

    “They got married in 2020”:

    • Ils se sont mariés en vingt-vingt.

    • Ils se sont mariés en deux-mille-vingt.

    “Clothes were funky in the 80’s”:

    • Les vêtements étaient funky dans les années 80’s.

    • Les vêtements étaient funky dans les années 1980.

    What about BC, AD, and centuries? Traditionally, French people prefer to use Roman numbers to write about centuries, but Arabic numbers are now becoming popular, as well. Centuries are introduced by the preposition au, and the regular ordinal French numbers are used when saying them out loud.

    How to write dates in French?

    To write the date in French, remember to write the day of the month before the number of the month, unlike how the date is written in English:

    French
    English

    03/10/2020

    10/03/2020

    30/01

    01/30

    You are all set for dates! You can do some of our activities to practice saying dates in French or keep reading to learn how to tell the time in French!

    How to tell the time in French?

    French people use two distinct clocks to tell the time: the 24-hour clock, which avoids all confusion, and the 12-hour clock, which is used more when speaking. When writing the time, use h instead of the English colons (:).

    How to ask for the time in French?

    To ask for the time in French, you can ask the question in several different ways:

    French
    English

    Quelle heure est-il ? (formal)

    Il est quelle heure ?

    What’s the time?

    Avez-vous l’heure s’il vous plaît ?Tu as l’heure ?

    Do you have the time?

    To give the time, you can use il est + time or just give the time.

    (Il est) onze heures et quart.

    (It is) 11:15 am.

    A specific time is introduced by the preposition à(at) to ask or say at what time something is happening.

    • À quelle heure commence le cours ?

      At what time does the class start?

    • À 10h00.

      At 10am.

    Now it is time to study how to read and give the time!

    When and how to use the 24-hour clock in French?

    In French, the 24-hour clock is used in airports and train stations, by the media, and when booking appointments in order to avoid confusion. You don’t usually need to clarify whether it is am or pm with the 24-hour clock.

    Reading a 24-hour clock time is straightforward: simply read the numbers you see and add heure(s)between the hours and minutes.

    Votre rendez-vous est à neuf heures quarante.

    Your appointment is at 9:40am.

    Le train partira à quatorze heures cinquante-neuf.

    The train will leave at 14:59.

    When and how to use the 12-hour clock in French?

    The 12-hour clock is very popular and used when speaking in French. People usually round to the nearest five minutes. If it is a matter of minutes, use the 24-hour clock!

    • Je partirai à sept heures vingt-deux du soir.

      I’ll leave at 7:22pm.

      ↳ If it’s a matter of minutes, use the 24-hour clock instead!
    • Je partirai à la demie / à sept heures et demie.

      I’ll leave at half past / at half past seven.

      ↳ The 12-hour clock is better for vague times.

    Are you ready to master the 12-hour clock?! Let’s start with the hours. For 12 am and 12 pm, there are special terms: minuit(midnight) and midi(midday). For all other hours, you can just use the number!

    How to say AM and PM

    To say “am” and “pm,” you’ll add these phrases after you give the time:

    French
    English

    du matin

    in the morning

    de l’après-midi

    in the afternoon

    du soir

    in the evening

    ↳ starts at 6pm

    How to give the number of minutes past or before the hour

    Now let’s talk about minutes. First, you’ll want to learn a few terms for a quarter past, thirty minutes, a quarter to, and the hour “on the dot”:

    French
    English

    …et quart

    a quarter past [hour]

    …et demie

    half past [hour]

    …moins le quart

    ↳ Note: Don’t forget to add the article le(the)
    when referring to “a quarter to” —
    this is not used for “a quarter past.”

    a quarter to [hour]

    …précise

    [hour] on the dot

    To give a time on the 12-hour clock with any other number of minutes, you’ll follow different rules depending on whether you’re more or less than 30 minutes into the hour:

    • For a number of minutes less than 30, you’ll just say the hour and then the regular French numbers for the number of minutes.

    • For a number of minutes past the half-hour mark you’ll need to do some math! Don’t worry, it’s not too hard! Just say the hour for the next hour and follow that with how many minutes remain until you reach that hour.

      For example, if the time is 5:40 am, you’ll do some subtraction and say, Il est six heures moins vingt(It’s twenty to six[lit.] It’s six hours minus 20)

    Here’s a visual that will help you remember all of that!

    The French phrases for different numbers of minutes past or before the hours are arranged around a clock face.

    Let’s take a look at some examples in context!

    • Il est déjà minuit !

      It’s already midnight!

    • Je me suis réveillé à trois heures du mat’.

      I woke up at 3 am.

      mat' is short for matin
    • Je me suis couchée à onze heures moins le quart.

      I went to bed at quarter to 11 pm.

      ↳ It is understood the action would be in the evening, so we don’t need to add du soir.
    Important

    Watch out for this common mistake: mixing up 12 and 24-hour clocks.

    12:30pm:

    • Il est midi trente.

    • Il est midi et demi.

      (12-hour clock)

    • Il est douze heures trente.

      (24-hour clock)

    00:45am:

    • Il est minuit quarante-cinq.

    • Il est une heure moins le quart.

      (12-hour clock)

    • Il est zéro heure quarante-cinq.

      (24-hour clock)

    1:50pm:

    • Il est quatorze heures moins dix.

    • Il est une heure moins le quart.

      (12-hour clock)

    • Il est treize heures cinquante.

      (24-hour clock)

    Because the 12-hour clock is not very precise, you can add vers(around), pile(sharp), or the poetic phrase et des poussières(or so[lit.] and dust).

    On a fini de dîner à neuf heures et des poussières.

    We finished dinner at 9 or so.

    Sois là à huit heures pile !

    You need to be here at 8 o’clock sharp!

    → Here are more French time phrases!

    How to describe lengths of time in French?

    Here, we are going to see where the American and French ways of talking about time meet! In both languages, 15, 30, and 45 minutes can be read with numbers or using the 12-hour vocab as shown below:

    French
    English

    quinze minutes / un quart d’heure

    15 minutes / a quarter of an hour

    trente minutes / une demi-heure

    ↳ Here, demi is masculine because it goes before the noun.

    30 minutes / half an hour

    quarante-cinq minutes / trois quarts d’heure

    45 minutes / three quarters of an hour

    How to say the seasons in French?

    Let’s wrap up this article by mentioning times of the year: l’hiver(winter), le printemps(spring), l’été(summer), l’automne(fall). All seasons in French are masculine.

    French
    English
    en hiver

    in the wintertime

    au printemps

    in the spring

    en été

    in the summertime

    en automne[/oton/]

    in the fall

    En hiver, il fait nuit à quatre heures de l’après-midi.[/oton/](In the wintertime, it is dark at 4 pm.)

    in the fall

    Tip

    Can you figure out why we say au printemps and not en printemps? ...
    Because printemps starts with a consonant!
    (BTW, if you are wondering, the h of hiver is mute.)

    In Brief: What to remember about dates and times in French

    When talking about the date and time in French, keep the following tips in mind:

    • Dates including the day: le + day (+ month + year)

      • Partial dates: en + month (+ year)

    • Sound like a native and use the 12-hour clock! “A quarter past” = et quart, “half past” = et demie, “a quarter to” = moins le quart.

    • “Am” and “pm” don’t exist in French, so use du matin(in the morning), de l’après-midi(in the afternoon), and du soir(in the evening).

    You are all set! If you want to know more, now it’s time to learn some useful French time phrases or head to our fun French time and date activities!

    Downloadable Resources

    Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

    To embark on your next language adventure, join Mango on social!

    Ready to take the next step?

    The Mango Languages learning platform is designed to get you speaking like a local quickly and easily.

    Mango app open on multiple devices