The 11-Minute Trick to Telling the Time in Portuguese
Brazilians aren’t punctual, but it doesn’t mean that telling the time in Portuguese isn’t important.
After all, you want to remind your friend Mario that he’s late.
And in this article, in less than twelve minutes, I’m going to show you how you can do that.
First Things First — Asking What the Time Is
Asking “What time is it?” in Portuguese could be easier, but it’s simple enough as it is.
In the examples below, the bracketed words mean they can be dropped in informal Portuguese.
- Que horas [são]? What time is it?
- [Você] tem horas? Do you have the time?
Many of my students make the same mistake: they use the word “tempo” (time) when in Portuguese they should say “horas” (hours).
When we use the word “tempo” in Portuguese, we’re referring to a period (“quanto tempo!”) or to the weather (“tempo bom hoje, né?”).
When you’re talking about chronological time, the word hora(s) is what you’re looking for.
Another thing you should notice is that we always ask that question using the plural form (“que horas?”).
It doesn’t mean that we don’t use the singular when asking this question. We do, but once in a blue moon.
(if you prefer, you can watch the lesson below).
Replying to The Question
You just told Mario that he’s late. He asked you, “Que horas são agora?” How do you answer?
Two things you should keep in mind are:
- When answering, the verb “ser” agrees with the number of hours you’re talking about (“duas horas”, but “uma hora”).
- The number “um” and “dois” have feminine forms (uma, duas). Since horas is feminine, those numbers should agree with the noun as well.
Examples (AM/PM omitted on purpose; you’ll see why).
- São três [horas] e dez [minutos]. It’s 3:10.
- São cinco e vinte e cinco. It’s 5:25.
- É uma e quinze. (1h15) It’s 1:15.
- É uma e meia. It’s 1:30.
When answering this question, you can drop the word for [hour] and [minute]. It’s just “ser” + #hour + e + #minutes.
And if you’re replying with the time something happens at, just use “à” or “às”.
- Às duas. At two.
- À uma. At one.
Telling the Time in Portuguese in Different Periods of the Day
You just told Mario that it’s very late — it’s 8:15 and he was supposed to be there at 7.
Over the phone, Mario asks sheepishly, “is that in the morning or in the evening?”
How do you go about scolding him?
You want to say, “in the evening, jackass”. Here is how:
- Da manhã, da tarde, da noite, da madrugada. In the morning. In the afternoon. In the evening/night/very early morning.
And here’s how you use it in a sentence.
- Cinco da manhã. 5 AM.
- Três da tarde. 3 PM.
- Sete da noite. 7 PM.
- Duas da madrugada. / manhã. 2 AM.
In the last example, you see both madrugada and manhã; in general, there’s no consensus about its usage. But most Brazilians would agree that 5 AM is manhã whereas 4 AM would be madrugada for sure.
You probably noticed that we don’t have a word for “a.m.”, “p.m.”
And as one of my students reminds me often, you need to include “in the morning”, “in the evening”… all the time.
Usually, it’s clear from the context.
If you really want to make it clear that it’s two in the morning and not two p.m., then you want to include the corresponding word for it.
How about Chunks of Time?
Now Mario heard “são oito e quinze da noite, seu babaca!” over the phone.
And you said fifteen, not a quarter, because you’re smart and know that in Portuguese we don’t have such a thing as “um quarto de hora”.
But then, your friend Mario says it’s going to take him at least another thirty minutes to be there.
“Can I come at 8:45 PM?”
Here’s how he would express that in Portuguese.
- “Posso chegar às quinze para as nove?”
This “para as” (also pronounced “pras”) is commonly used like this:
Minutes left until next hour + para as + next hour
And here are more examples:
- Dez para as três. 2:50 PM.
And here is what it means:
- [Faltam] dez [minutos] para as três. Ten minutes are left to 3 PM.
And we usually employ this structure when twenty minutes or fewer are left until the next hour.
And the keyword here is “usually”. Some people just don’t abide by the rules.
And here are some more examples for the road.
- É uma hora. It’s 1 o’clock.
- São duas e meia. It’s two thirty o’clock.
- São duas e quinze. It’s 2:15 PM.
- São vinte para as duas. It’s 1:40 PM.
- São quinze para as duas. It’s 1:45 PM.
Some Special Usages
It’s 11:30 PM and Mario hasn’t arrived yet. Quite angry, you call him and ask when he is going to arrive.
“Well,” he says. “If you could wait this long, please wait another thirty minutes.”
You do the math and say, hey, it’s going to be midnight!
How do you say that?
- É meio-dia, é meia-noite. It’s noon (midday), it’s midnight.
- É meio-dia e meia, é meia-noite e meia. It’s 12:30 PM. It’s 12:30 AM.
And just a quick thing before you leave, here’s a quick mistake you can avoid right now.
If you want to say it’s 12:30 PM, the word “meia” agrees with the implied word “hora”, not with the word for “day”.
I warn you against this slip because many Brazilians never care about getting this right.
- Meio-dia e meio. (x)
- Meio-dia e meia. 12:30 PM.
As I told you, telling the time Portuguese isn’t hard and shouldn’t take you long. After all, you should spend hours improving your Portuguese, not learning how to tell the time in Portuguese.
Of course, if you’re talking about time, you also need to know how to speak about the days of the week! (And it’s simple.)
And hey, if you want to get some more practice, you’ll probably want to learn the numbers. Or, if you’re considering having lessons, I may have something for you. Click here and find out more about having Portuguese lessons with me.