Express Times and Dates Right in French
Times and dates are usually confusing to learners. In this article, we'll show you the most accurate way to express times and dates right in French.
Express Dates in French
If you are American and have written out dates using numbers, you have probably written something like this: 11/12/18 or 11/12/2018. In America this would refer to November 12, 2018, but in France this would refer to December 11, 2018. This is because in France, as in many European countries, the day is placed before the month, with the year following. Think of the units going from smallest to largest: day-month-year.
Express Times in French
Designating time in France is also approached slightly differently, as the French regularly use the 24-hour clock, often referred to as military time in the United States, since the 24-hour clock is used by branches of the military. In France, you may arrange to meet at 20 h for an 8 PM movie, for instance. To designate the day for this movie date, you could say vendredi, for instance, with a lower-case v. This is also something that differs from how days are designated in other languages, such as English, which uses capital letters for days and months of the year.
A Few Tips for Time and Date Expression
Here are some important things to keep in mind when referring to times and dates in French:
Time expressions in French include “Il est” for pointing out the hour, as with “Il est neuf heures” and “à” for designating a time during which something occurs, e.g., “Le film commence à 19 h 30”, “On est allé à la bibliothèque à 15 h.” You can also use “vers” to express an approximate time: “On y est allé vers 15 h.” The h, designating “heures” (or “heure”, in the case of 1 o’clock) is used as a separator, although you might see a colon at times [ : ].
For telling time, you may use both the 24-hour and 12-hour clocks. It is useful to adjust to the use of the 24-hour clock, known as “l’heure officielle” in France, since this is commonly used by the French, and comes up quite a lot in conversation. It also avoids confusion, since a 10 AM flight and a 10 PM flight are quite different. I remember booking a flight in New York, confusing my AM’s and PM’s, and mistaking one for the other. Luckily, I checked over my flight information before taking off for the airport. This must be why my phone is set to the 24-hour clock.
When the French are using the 12-hour clock, they might add a “matin” or “soir” to emphasize the time of day. “On se voit à sept heures ce soir ?” “Ce bruit m’a réveillée à six heures du matin !” (That’s me, talking about all those awful disruptive sounds, including beeping trucks, car alarms, phones going off, dogs barking for 20 minutes on end, children screaming and crying ... I think I’m entering muddy waters.)
Also, you can designate a half hour by saying “dix heures et demie” (remember the agreement with the feminine word for hour that the half-hour takes on; this is distinct from “une demi-heure”, in which the “demi” in the hyphenated compound word is invariable). Think of the Marguerite Duras novel Dix heures et demie du soir en été, published in 1960, in which this hour is described vividly during a family vacation in Spain: “C’est encore une fois les vacances. Encore une fois les routes d’été. Encore une fois des églises à visiter. Encore une fois dix heures et demie du soir en été. Des Goya à voir. Des orages. Des nuits sans sommeil. Et la chaleur.”
In addition to half hours, you can designate quarters of an hour by saying “et quart” and “moins le quart” – remember the use of the definite article when you are talking about something that occurs fifteen minutes before the hour. Thus we have “dix heures et quart”, but “dix heures moins le quart”. These designations are specifically for the 12-hour clock. For the 24-hour clock, l’heure officielle, stick with adding numbers to the hour, as with vingt heures trente, quatorze heures quarante-cinq, etc. We can also say zéro heures for minuit.
For what is designated as 12 h with the 12-hour clock, we have the words midi and minuit, depending on whether the clock strikes this hour during the day or at night.
Calendar days follow the Gregorian calendar that is used worldwide. Remember that the words that are used for days and months of the year in French are never capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.
Learn How to Say Monday to Sunday in French
The French week begins with Monday, following the International Standard. Here are the days of the week, along with their three-letter codes (which are used on things like packaging, to show expiration dates, among other things):
Days are masculine. Thus, if your flute lesson occurs on Thursday, you would say “J’ai ma leçon de flûte le jeudi.” The definite article indicates a regularly occurring event. To indicate a specific day, you may use “ce” or nothing at all to introduce the day, depending on the context, e.g., “On va au concert ce dimanche”, “La réunion aura lieu lundi”. The “ce” in the first phrase emphasizes that the concert is this coming Sunday. In the second phrase, it is implied that the Monday you are referring to is approaching imminently.
Learn How to Say the Months of the Year in French
The months of the year are as follows, along with their corresponding three-letter codes:
Months are also masculine. In many cases, you would not need an article to introduce them, but it is important to know the gender for when you have to modify them, as with “Ces négociations se tiendra à Paris ce décembre prochain”. You can introduce months with “en” or “au mois de”: “Je pars en vacances au mois de mai”, “Je passerai l’examen en juin”. For events with specific times and dates, such as exams, you could write the following: L’examen aura lieu le vendredi 2 novembre 2018, de 15 h à 17 h.
If you do, in fact, have an exam approaching, good luck with it and perhaps treat yourself to a movie afterward at 20 h.
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