Using Ser with Time

Overview

While both ser and estar can translate to to be in English, they aren't interchangeable in Spanish.

  • Ser is used to classify and identify permanent or lasting attributes.
  • Estar is used to indicate temporary states and locations.

If this general rule is too vague for you, think of the acronym DOT. Ser is used for:

  • Descriptions of a person or thing.
  • Origins of a person or thing.
  • Time.

In this article we'll take a look at the T in DOT: time. Let's get started!

Time with Ser

Ser is used to talk about time expressions involving days, dates, and hours.

Hoy es miércoles.
Today is Wednesday.
 
Ayer fue mi cumpleaños.
Yesterday was my birthday.
 
Ahora es la una y media.
Right now, it is one thirty.
 
Eran las dos.
It was two o’clock.
 

Telling Time with Ser

There are several useful formulas for telling the time with ser in Spanish.

One O'Clock

Use these formulas for talking about la una (one o'clock), the only hour used with the third person singular form of ser. The following can all be used to say It's _ o'clock or It's (hour) (minute).

  • es + la + una (+ number of minutes)
  • es + la + una (+ y + number of minutes)
  • es + la + una (+ con + number of minutes)
Es la una treinta.
It's one thirty.
 
Es la una y veinte.
It's one twenty.
 
Es la una con cuarenta.
It's one forty.
 

This formula can be used to say It's (# of minutes) until/'til (a certain hour).

  • es + la + una + menos + number of minutes
Es la una menos diez.
It's ten 'til one.
 

From Two to Twelve

Use these formulas for talking about the hours from two to twelve, which are used with the third person plural form of ser. The following can all be used to say It's _ o'clock or It's (hour) (minute).

  • son + las + number from two to twelve (+ number of minutes)
  • son + las + number from two to twelve (+ number of minutes)
  • son + las + number from two to twelve (+ number of minutes)
Son las tres diez.
It is three ten.
 
Son las nueve y veintinueve.
It is nine twenty-nine.
 
Son las diez con diez.
It is ten ten.
 

This formula can be used to say It's (# of minutes) until/'til (a certain hour).

  • son + las + number from two to twelve + menos + number of minutes
Son las once menos cinco.
It's five to eleven.
 

Media y Cuarto

  • To indicate that it's half past the hour in Spanish, use the phrase y media .
  • To indicate that it's a quarter past the hour, use the phrase y cuarto .
  • To indicate that i's a quarter 'til the hour, use the phrase menos cuarto .
Son las diez y media.
It's ten thirty.
 
Es la una y cuarto.
It is one fifteen./It is a quarter after one.
 
Son las cinco menos cuarto.
It's a quarter 'til five.
 

Other Useful Time Expressions

Son las cuatro y diez en punto.
It is four ten on the dot.
 
Son las nueve más o menos.
It is around nine o’clock.
 

Time Expressions with Estar

Some phrases that deal with time will use the verb estar. In such expressions the emphasis is on the state of affairs and roughly translates to How are we looking on time? or Where do we stand for time?

¿A qué día estamos?
What day is it? (Literally: What day are we at)?
 
¿A cuántos estamos del mes?
What day of the month is it? (Literally: At which day are we up to in the month?)
 
Estamos a sábado.
Today is Saturday. (Literally: We are at Saturday).
 

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