9 common ways to say “what time is it” in French

Quelle heure est-il ? is the basic way to ask what time it is in French.

But maybe you want to change things up, or you feel a need to be extremely polite or specific. If that’s the case, you’re in luck: there are lot of different ways to ask what time it is in French.

Let’s look at nine different ways to ask what time it is in French!

How many ways are there to ask what time it is in French?

Before we begin, just a little note. The phrases on this list are probably the most common ways to ask what time it is that you’ll come across in French. But interestingly enough, there are many additional ways to ask this question, including some that are colloquial or regional. The more French you hear, speak, and read, the more comfortable you’ll become with this wide range of expressions.

I say this from experience. It was actually a bit difficult for me to compile this list, since may other, lesser known or more complicated options also came to mind.

The good news is, regardless of how many ways there are to ask what time is it in French, there is one standard, pretty much always acceptable way to do it: Quelle heure est-il ? 

Nine ways to ask what time it is in French

A woman's hand with red painted nails holds up a large red and white alarm clock, against a bright blue background

Here are nine common ways to ask what time it is in French.

The standard “What time is it?”: Quelle heure est-il ?

The standard and most common way to ask “What time is it?” in French is Quelle heure est-il ? 

If you do an online search, some people – including native French speakers – will ask why there’s an il, not an elle, even though heure is feminine. This is because Il est , the phrase that would be at the beginning of the sentence if inversion wasn’t used, is a pairing that means “It is” when talking about certain abstract ideas. Think of it as a cousin of phrases like Il y a or Il fait (for the weather).  

If there’s only one phrase you remember from this list, Quelle heure est-il ? should be the one. It’s a neutral phrase that you can use with just about anyone in just about any situation. If you’re talking to a stranger or want to make it more polite, just add s’il vous plait to the end.

Excusez-moi, quelle heure est-il, s’il vous plait ?

Il est 9 heures.

(Excuse me, what time is it, please?

It’s 9 o’clock.)

The controversial un-inverted “What time is it?”: Il est quelle heure ?

The previous entry on our list, Quelle heure est-il ?, is the standard go-to for asking what time it is in French. This phrase is so common that you’ll find it has many variants.  One of the most common is its un-inverted form, Il est quelle heure ?

Inversion in French questions usually gives them an air of formality and politeness, so not doing that here makes the phrase much more informal. It’s best to use this one only with a good friend or family member, or maybe with young people.

Il est quelle heure ?

Il est 11h30.

Ah zut, j’ai mon cours d’anglais à 11h45 ! Je vais être en retard !

(What time is it? It’s 11:30. Oh no, I have English class at 11:45. I’m going to be late!)

The extra-polite “What time is it?”: Avez-vous l’heure ?

Avez-vous l’heure? is a polite way to ask what time it is in French. It’s similar to the English expression “Do you have the time?”

You can add s’il vous plait to the end to make it even more polite: Avez-vous l’heure, s’il vous plait ?

This phrase is usually used with vous, since you probably wouldn’t use this level of politeness with someone you’re friendly or close with. But while strange to the French ear, technically you could say (or see/hear) As-tu l’heure ?

Pardon, monsieur, avez-vous l’heure ?

Oui, il est 10h30.

Merci.

(Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?

It’s 10:30.

Thank you.)

The slightly less polite “What time is it?”: Vous avez l’heure ?

Remember that in French, inversion is the most polite and formal way to ask a question. That means that the phrase Vous avez l’heure ? is like an Avez-vous l’heure ? that’s  lost its luster.

It could be compared to asking “Have you got the time?” in English, instead of “Do you have the time, please?”.

So, be sure to avoid using this one with strangers in a formal or professional context, unless it’s a sort of friendly environment.

You can add s’il vous plait or someone’s title to make the phrase ever so slightly more polite.

Vous avez l’heure, monsieur ?

Il est 14h30.

(Have you got the time, sir?

It’s 2:30.)

The laid-back “What time is it?: Tu as l’heure ?

In the previous example on our list, we saw how removing inversion makes a question less polite. Now go from the formal vous to the familiar tu, and you have the least formal entry on our list.

Think of Tu as l’heure ? as “You got the time?” or “Hey, what time is it?” You can use it with friends or close family members, but don’t use it with strangers or in a professional or formal setting.  

Because if its extreme informality, it’s rarely, if ever, paired with s’il te plait.

Tu as l’heure ?

Ouais, il est 16h30.

Merde ! J’ai dit à Cécilia que je serais là à 16h !

(Hey, what time is it?

Yeah, it’s 4:30.

Shit! I told Cecilia I’d be there at 4!)

The ultra-polite “What time is it?”: Auriez-vous l’heure ?

Even more polite than the already very polite Avez-vous l’heure ? is the expression’s conditional form: Auriez-vous l’heure ?  

If you ever find yourself in conversation with, maybe, a French-speaking monarch or if you take a job as a butler and find yourself desperately needing to ask your stuffy employer the time, this phrase is the one to use. But you can use it in general, whenever you want to be very polite and formal.

Of course, to make sure it’s at peak politeness, be sure to add s’il vous plait and possibly also the person’s title.

Pardon, monsieur, auriez-vous l’heure, s’il vous plait ?

Il est 12h15, monsieur.


(Pardon me, sir, would you happen to know what time it is?
It is 12:15, sir.)

The less polite sibling of Auriez-vous l’heure ?: Vous auriez l’heure ?

Vous auriez l’heure ? is  a pretty polite phrase, as the presence of the conditional tense indicates. But it’s not as glowingly, impeccably polite as its sibling Auriez-vous l’heure ?.

You can add s’il vous plait or a title to make it a bit more polite.

Excusez-moi, madame, vous auriez l’heure ?

Oui, monsieur, il est 17h.


(Pardon me, madam, do you have the time? Yes, sir, it’s 5 o’clock.)

The long “What time is it?”: Est-ce que vous avez l’heure ?/Est-ce que tu as l’heure ?

Est-ce que vous avez l’heure ? or Est-ce que tu as l’heure ?  are longer ways to ask what time it is in French.

These phrases are fairly neutral; they  can be polite or a little more familiar. The only downside is that they’re a bit clunky.

Est-ce que vous avez l’heure ?

Oui, il est 10h30.

(Do you have the time?

Yes, it’s 10:30.)

At what tine – À quelle heure…?

Maybe you want to know how to specifically ask the time something begins or happens in French.

In this case, you’d use the phrase à quelle heure (at what time/when…), surrounded by whatever words are appropriate.

This means that there are MANY was to use à quelle heure.  

Note that, due to inversion being a sign of formality, as a general rule, starting a phrase with à quelle heure is more formal than finishing with it. For instance:

Excusez-moi, c’est à quelle heure, la réunion ce soir ? (Excuse me, the meeting tonight is at what time?) (less formal)

vs

À quelle heure est la réunion ce soir ?  (more formal) (At what time is the meeting tonight?)

Here’s another pair:

Le spectacle commence à quelle heure ? (The show starts when?) (less formal)

À quelle heure commence le spectacle ? (When does the show begin?) (more formal)

Here are a few general examples to show several different ways à quelle heure can be used:

À quelle heure termine le spectacle ? (At what time does the show end?)

À quelle heure est-il parti ? (When did he leave?)

Son train part à quelle heure ? (Her train leaves at what time?)

À quelle heure as-tu mis le gâteau au four ? (When did you put the cake in the oven?)

Ça passe à la télé à quelle heure ? (That’s on TV at what time?)

Il est né à quelle heure ? (He was born at what time?)

What is the best way to ask what time it is in French?

View from behind one of the famous huge clocks on the facade of the Musée d'Orsay.

As you can tell from our list of the most common options, there are many ways to ask what time it is in French.  

It’s nice to have so many options, but if you’re in doubt, Quelle heure est-il ? (accompanied, if necessary, by someone’s title and/or s’il vous plait to make it more polite) is the default. It can be used with friends, family, or strangers.  

How do you tell the time in French?

However it’s asked to you, you can use the phrase Il est __ heure(s) (It’s ___ o’clock) to say what time it is in French.

For instance, if it’s 11am, you’d say Il est 11 heures.  Or, in writing: Il est 11h.

If there are minutes after the hour, you add them after the word heures. For example, if it’s 11:25, you’d say Il est 11 heures 25. Or, in writing: Il est 11h25.

To be extra polite, you could add monsieur or madame (sir or madam): Il est 11 heures, monsieur.

You can read our article on how to tell the time in French for more information and tips, including how to use the 24-hour clock like a French person.


Have you ever had to ask a French person what time it is? Which phrase did you use? Feel free to share in the comments!

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

5 thoughts on “9 common ways to say “what time is it” in French”

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  1. A classic 🙂
    Asking for the time is one of the basic tools any french learner should have.
    I like the fact that we have many levels of politeness in asking that simple question!
    Natives tend to be grammatically incorrect while asking questions.
    Thus one will hear often: “Il est quelle heure?”

    Reply
  2. A good article but needs some editing, eg the heading for “vous avez l’heure ?” and the example for “vous auriez l’heure?” A little bit of time pressure to get the article out… happens to us all, I am not being critical and you can feel free to delete this comment.

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  3. Very interesting. Given that vernacular forms tend toward abbreviation, might one hear something like “t’as l’heure?” as an extreme of informality?

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  4. I like the different ways of asking someone for the time . Going to Paris
    in 2023 for a month . Just kind of brushing up on my French .

    Thank You

    Reply

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