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An example I was given as 3:45 pm can be read in two ways:

Sono le tre e quarantacinque di pomeriggio.

Sono le quattro meno un quarto di pomeriggio.

Instructions require both ways of expressing the time.

How do I say...

12:50 pm
11:15 am
2:30 pm
7:42 am
12:00 am
6:13 pm

I have tried these, but are they correct?

Sono le dodici e cinquanta del pomeriggio.
Sono le undici e quindici del mattino.
Sono le due e trenta del pomeriggio.
Sono le sette e quarantadue del mattino.
Sono mezzogiorno.
Sono le sei e tredici di notte.

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    Welcome! Describing how to say the time in Italian is not so easy, because it greatly depends on the context: in most cases the exact time is not needed and approximations to the next ten minutes or quarters are used. Also, in informal usage, 12 hour time is used: le tre del pomeriggio or le sei di sera, with the qualification only if ambiguity would arise. However, with the advent of digital watches, it's more common to use 24 hour time and more precision in the minutes. – egreg Oct 26 '20 at 22:47
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    Notice that mezzogiorno, mezzanotte and l'una are singular: "è mezzogiorno e mezzo", "è l'una meno venti". – Old Man of Aran Oct 27 '20 at 8:10
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    “le sei e tredici di notte”: This is doubly strange. If, for any reason, you have to be so precise to specify “e tredici” (rather than, say, rounding up to the nearest quarter), almost certainly you'll say “sono le diciotto e tredici”. In an informal setting, you'll say something like “sono quasi le sei e un quarto”. Very important: Italian “notte” doesn't coincide with English “night”. It starts quite later, when most activities (dinner, theatre, you name it) have ended, and people go to sleep or to actual nighttime activities. So, there is no such thing as “sei di notte”. – DaG Oct 27 '20 at 9:06
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If you need to utter the exact time, say for a train departure or arrival or any case when no ambiguity is allowed,

12:50
11:15
14:30
7:42
0:00 or 24:00
18:13

Ancient train timetables used 12 hour time, but that was long ago. The convention for train timetables is to use 0:00 for departure and 24:00 for arrival.

If you want to say the current time in informal speech, then usually the approximation is to the nearest five or ten minutes and 12 hour time is used. Fifteen and thirty minutes are “un quarto” and “mezzo”.

The verb is at the singular if the main hour is “mezzogiorno”, “mezzanotte” or “l'una”. Before or at the half-hour we refer to the previous full hour; after the half-hour we refer to the next full hour. In case of ambiguity one adds a specification (shown in parentheses). Thus you'd say

è l'una meno dieci (del pomeriggio) for 12:50
sono le undici e un quarto (del mattino) for 11:15
sono le due e mezzo (del pomeriggio) for 14:30
sono le otto meno venti (del mattino) for 7:42
è mezzanotte for 0:00
sono le sei e un quarto (del pomeriggio/di sera)
sono le dieci meno un quarto (del mattino) for 9:45

The last one can also be “le nove e tre quarti”. Depending on the region, you can hear “della mattina” instead of “del mattino”.

Hours between noon (12pm) and sunset are “pomeriggio”. Hours between sunset and midnight are “sera”, the boundary seems to be around 6pm, which can be “pomeriggio” or “sera” depending on the season. Hours from midnight to 3am are “notte” and “mattina” from 4am to noon.

However, there is no fixed convention about hours after midnight until about 5am. Somebody might still be fooling around “alle tre di notte”, whereas somebody else might wake up “alle tre del mattino” for going to work.

What about, say, 14:35? It is definitely “pomeriggio”, but is it “le tre meno venticinque” or “le due e trentacinque”? I'd say neither and go for “(quasi) le tre meno venti” or “le due e mezzo (passate)”. Similarly for 14:25. The reason is simple: “venticinque” and “trentacinque” are long to say and exactness is usually not needed. You know, Italians consider time as a helper, rather than a commander.

On the other hand, if somebody asks me “che ore sono?”, I'd try to be as precise as possible, so I'd say “le due e trentacinque” (omitting the specification because it's obviously unneeded).

More precision and the form “e” rather than “meno” is becoming more and more common with the advent of digital watches. With analog ones it was handier to round to the five/ten minutes and to look forward after the half-hour.

There are also local terms. For instance, one can hear “la mezza” (Veneto and also elsewhere) to denote 12:30 or “il tocco” (Tuscany) for 13:00.

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  • The digression about 35 applies to any number of minutes that is not multiple of 10 except for un quarto, e meno un quarto. But it's just common sense to round up the hour to the nearest multiple of 10 when the context don't require accuracy. So the way to say 35 is actually "e trentacinque" then context and common sense can make you round up. – Sheik Yerbouti Oct 28 '20 at 14:02
  • I believe that “la mezza” is quite more widespread than just in Veneto: treccani.it/vocabolario/mezza – DaG Oct 28 '20 at 15:50
  • @DaG I added “and also elsewhere”, because I can't tell where it's commonly used other than in my region. – egreg Oct 28 '20 at 16:24
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In a formal or extremely meticulous context, you can read the hours exactly as they are.

In all the other occasions: Regarding the minutes, you always use only multiple of 5. Also, for 15 you say "e un quarto'"; for 30 "e mezza"; for 45 you name the next hour and then "meno un quarto"; for 00 you can say the redundant "in punto" if you want. Till 35 you name the target hour and add the minutes, from 40 on, you name the next hour and remove minutes: meno venti; meno un quarto; meno dieci; meno cinque. You can even say quindici, trenta and quarantacinque but they sound formal. (Note that when speaking formally you always add minutes to the current hour so there is no such thing as "meno quindici" it is either informally "meno un quarto" or more formally "e quarantacinque")

Regarding the hours, you always use the 12h time. And you always add "del mattino/pomeriggio/sera/notte" at the end of the sentence, unless you are talking about the present or any other time being part of a given context that is informative enough. Then we have "mezzogiorno" for "dodici" (12pm) and "mezzanotte" for... mezzanotte. There is no equivalent of 12am. (You would never say "dodici di notte", "zero" or "ventiquattro")

I think that's pretty much all.

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    I'd add that "del mattino/di pomeriggio/di sera/di notte" are only used if the sentence is otherwise ambiguous, which is quite uncommon. They're way less used than am/pm in English. – Old Man of Aran Oct 27 '20 at 8:27
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    «you always add "del mattino/pomeriggio/sera/notte" at the end of the sentence, unless...»: Not at all. You never add them unless it is strictly necessary. If we are fixing a time for dinner, we just say “ci vediamo alle nove”, and so on. – DaG Oct 27 '20 at 9:01
  • @Old Man of Aran and Dag Please read more carefully: "unless you are talking about the present or any other time being part of a given context that is informative enough." – Sheik Yerbouti Oct 28 '20 at 3:09
  • If we are fixing a time for dinner, then the time we are talking about is part of a given contex that is informative enough about wether we are talking about 9am or 9pm. – Sheik Yerbouti Oct 28 '20 at 3:38
  • @Davide: Please don't be condescending. You say “A, unless B”; I say “B, unless A”. While from a logical viewpoint they are equivalent, in natural language they are quite different. The norm is not to use “del mattino etc.”, with the exception of omitting them, but the other way around. – DaG Oct 28 '20 at 6:38

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