Once you have learned how to count in Portuguese, you are ready to learn how to tell the time. It is an essential skill to have when you’re asking someone for the time or scheduling  or rescheduling an appointment. 

In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know about telling the time in European Portuguese, including the basics, how to express different times of day in formal and informal ways, and some common expressions that you might encounter.

There is no Such Thing as AM and PM

In European Portuguese, we have different expressions to refer to different parts of the day. Here are some examples:


    • Manhã (morning): From 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.

    • Tarde (afternoon): From 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    • Noite (evening/night): From 7 p.m. to 12 a.m.

    • Madrugada (late night/early morning): From 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Portuguese does not use AM and PM as ways to differentiate time, and unless someone speaks English, they will not understand what you mean by those. To indicate the time of day, we can use the following expressions:

De manhã: In the morning

De tarde: In the afternoon

De noite: In the evening/night

De madrugada: In the late night/early morning

Queres ir ver um filme amanhã? Há um às sete da tarde.

Do you want to go see a movie tomorrow? There’s one at 7pm. 

What Time Is It in Portuguese? 

Before anything else, you must be able to ask what time it is and answer the question if someone asks. 

Que horas são? 
What time is it?

It is… 

Teacher tip
: Note that because horas is a feminine plural noun, we use são (literally they are) rather than it is. You will have to use the feminine versions of 1 (uma) and 2 (duas) as well.

Formal vs Informal 

The blog already has a post regarding the formal and informal speeches. Well, the ways to tell the time are also divided between informal and formal. 

Portuguese Formal Time. 

Portuguese society is quite formal and puts emphasis on a social hierarchy. When speaking Portuguese in Portugal, you must be aware of those subtleties and choose the words and expressions you use accordingly. 

You might want to use the formal time when: 

    • Scheduling a meeting at work

    • Booking an appointment at the doctor’s or specialist

    • Reading or writing administration related documents (e.g.: Finanças, Segurança Social, etc)

    • Booking a table at the restaurant (depending on the restaurant and its prestige, informal time is okay) 

Formal time is quite straightforward, as long as you know numbers up to 60. 

Need to revise the numbers in Portuguese first? I got you!

Once that’s sorted, you must use the 24-hour-system and read it as it is. If you’re not used to reading numbers above 12 on your screen, I suggest you change your phone settings before your trip to Portugal so it becomes more natural. Just in case, I put together this table to help you: 

1am 1 (uma) 1pm 13 (treze)
2am 2 (duas) 2pm 14 (catorze)
3am 3 (três) 3pm 15 (quinze)
4am 4 (quatro) 4pm 16 (dezasseis)
5am 5 (cinco) 5pm 17 (dezassete)
6am 6 (seis) 6pm 18 (dezoito)
7am 7 (sete) 7pm 19 (dezanove)
8am 8 (oito) 8pm 20 (vinte)
9am 9 (nove) 9pm 21 (vinte-e-uma)
10am 10 (dez) 10pm 22 (vinte-e-duas)
11am 11 (onze) 11pm 23 (vinte-e-três)
12pm 12 (doze) 12am 24/00 (vinte-e-quatro/zero)

Let’s say that it’s 5:30pm (17:30). You will simply say:

São dezassete e trinta (17:30).

Another example:

São treze e quarenta e cinco (13:45).
It’s 1:45pm. 

That’s it! 

Portuguese Informal Time.

Unlike what is suggested by its name, the informal time in Portuguese might be more difficult to learn than the formal one. 

Good news: It follows the 12-hour-system. No weird maths involved (for now). 

Informal time in Portuguese is quite similar to British English time. It separates the clock in two. 

Before the half point, we will use e (lit: and). After the half point, we will use menos (lit: minus) or para (lit: to).

Sentence structure: 

Hour + e + minutes / half / quarter 
Hour + menos + minutes / half / quarter
minutes / half / quarter + para as + hour

What does it all look like in practice you might ask? I have another table for you!

Important vocabulary:

14h00 – São duas horas. It’s 2pm.
14h05 – São duas e cinco. It’s 2:05pm.
14h15 – São duas e um quarto. It’s 2:15pm.It’s quarter past two..Um quarto: a quarter
14h30 – São duas e meia. It’s 2:30pm.It’s half past two.
Meia: half
Meia-hora: half-an-hour
14h40 – São vinte para as três.
São três menos vinte.
It’s 2:40pm.It’s twenty to two.
14h45 – É um quarto para as três.
São três menos um quarto.
It’s 2:45pm.It’s a quarter to two. 
15h00 – São três horas. It’s 3pm. 
24h00 – É meia-noite. It’s midnight.
12h00 – É meio-dia. It’s noon.

Why Should You Learn Both? 

You might be reading this thinking: why the heck do I need to learn both ways?
Good question! Well, you don’t need to, but you probably should.

It’s very difficult to gauge who is going to use what. Although there are general rules, they are not written in stone, and you might hear your boss use informal time. 

To give you the most chances to understand native speakers tell the time, the best option is to learn both. 

Adjectives and Expressions Related to Time in Portuguese

Estar atrasado
To be late

Estar a horas
To be on time

Estar cedo 
To be early 

Chegar cedo
To arrive early

Ser uma pessoa da manhã/ser uma pessoa matinal 
To be a morning person / an early bird

Ser uma pessoa noturna 
To be a night owl

Telling time in a new language takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to get the hang of it. To improve your skills, try practising with a Portuguese-speaking friend or by listening to Portuguese music or podcasts that mention time. With time and practice, you’ll be telling time in European Portuguese like a pro in no time!


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