"Telling time" in the Spanish language
The "telling of time" is an interesting exercise for modern gringos trying to learn Spanish. It would probably be easier for us to make the adjustment as to how the Spanish language "tells time" if we used our own English language of the 1600s or the 1700s. . . .
Have you ever watched an old movie about Merry Ol' England, you know, a movie like "The Prince and the Pauper" or "Robin Hood" or "The Three Musketeers"? Can you remember how the town crier walked around the city streets, or how the guard detail would walk the parapets of the castle and yell out, "Twelve o' clock, and all's well!"? Have you ever said "It's nine o'clock" or "It's five o'clock in the morning" in answer to someone's question, "What time is it?"or, when asked, "What time is it?," do you just answer, "It's nine." or "It's five in the morning." Well, have you ever thought long and hard on what the "o'clock" part of the more complete answer to the "What time is it?" question really means? If you have, then telling time in the Spanish language is going to be a lot easier than you think! If you haven't thought long and hard about the "o'clock," which stands for ‘on the clock,' by the way, then it's high time we looked at this interesting phrase in our own language and use it to make telling time make more sense to us, those who are trying to learn the Spanish language.
The first thing we have to do is understand how our clocks and watches are set up, a function of how we view the phenomena of TIME. You know that TIME is made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and so on. . . . Correct? Well, we use calendars to help us keep track of the days, weeks, months, etc., but we use clocks to keep track of the smaller fractions of TIME, the twenty-four hours we have in a day here on Planet Earth. The Spanish-speaking nations use the same kind of hours, minutes, seconds clocks we use. However, many of these countries use the military or "2400 hour" system of telling time. That is, instead of the time being, say, 4:00 p.m., they might say "1600 hours." The way I got used to telling time using this system on my mission in Guatemala and El Salvador and, then later, when I was in the Navy was to see in my head a clock face with the hands set at "twelve noon." I would then see this "12" as the number "1200." I would then add the number of hours and minutes beyond that to come up with the correct military or Latin American time. For example, if it was "7:35 p.m.," I would add 735 to 1200 and come up with the correct time: 1935 hours. Not only will you see a difference in how the Spanish-speaking peoples "tell time," you will find that the Spanish-speaking world's perception of time has dramatic influences on the people's vision of reality and on their sound system of communication: the Spanish language. Just as person's language is a function of that person's vision and perception of reality, that person's perception and vision of reality is a function of that person's language, leaving us with the question: "Which came first. . .the vision of reality that created the language or the language which created the vision of reality?" That discussion, my friend, is a "chicken-or-the-egg" theory topic better left for another day! But, know this: your perception of time, the twenty-four hours a day that you (and each and every human being on this planet!) enjoy, is integrally combined with your native language, the language you speak with, the language you think in, the language dream in. . . .
Getting back to the hours on the clock. The word "hour" in the Spanish language looks one heckuva lot like the word we use in English. It is hora. Right, doesn't hora look a lot like "hour"? It should be easy to remember until you gain enough fluency to "see" in the Spanish language. Now, for those of you (like me, when I was learning this language!) who need to see how the language works, who need to see how the language resembles the English language (and it doesn't in every case!), who need the ‘crutch' of seeing if there's a one-to-one correspondence to the English language, so that you can translate word-for-word from English to Spanish, etc. . . . here's one grammar point that you can find a one-to-one correspondence between the two languages. Remember above, when I asked about whether or not you had seen some of the old swashbucklin' pirate or Merry Ol' England movies? The town crier's use of "It is twelve hours on the clock, and all's well!" might help you understand the reasons why we use two — and ONLY TWO!! — conjugations of the verb SER in constructing responses in Spanish to the question, "What time is it?" or, as you will hear in the Spanish language: ¿Qué hora es?
The only two verb conjugations you can use in answer to the question: ¿Qué hora es? are:
Now, you may be asking yourself, how do these two sentences relate to some old movie? Here's how. . . .
The "telling of time" in Spanish is a function of the NUMBER OF HORAS on the face of the clock. That's all. Nothing else. So, if you can envision how your ancestors — especially if you number among your antepasados forefathers and foremothers from England, in the case of the swashbucklin' movies previously referred to!! — told time, then learning to tell time in Spanish will be an easy task. We will set aside the fact that the telling of time is often done using the military clock (that is the 2400 hour clock, remember? . . .truth be told, the average citizen on the street tells time exactly the same way we do here in the United States!) for the moment. , So, if it is 1:00 in the afternoon or it is 1:00 in the morning, the Spanish speakers see in their mind una hora en el reloj or "one hour on the clock." If the time were 9:32 in the evening, the Spanish speakers would see in their mind nueve horas, treinta y dos minutos en el reloj. Note the "singular hora" and the "plural horas," the only difference between the two words is the letter "s," right? So, the next step they do is select the proper conjugation of the verb SER — SER is the only verb used to tell time in the Spanish-speaking world! — that corresponds with a single, third-person thing, in this case una hora If you need to review this verb, go here . . . and this better be the last time you need to "review" this verb! GET IT MEMORIZED!! . . . Yes, that is an order! Of course, the conjugation used is es . . . it is "one hour" after all! Now, that the correct conjugation of the verb has been determined, the Spanish speaker — that's YOU! — creates the sentence: Es la una in response to the question ¿Qué hora es?. If it were 9:32 in the evening, the process would be exactly the same: using the verb SER, find the conjugation that corresponds with a plural, third-person thing, in this case nueve horas, treinta y dos minutos. We use son as our conjugation, and answer: Son las nueve treinta y dos. You can say Son las nueve treinta y dos minutos if you want to do so . . . it's not required or even needed.
Do you see the pattern that is forming here with respect to "telling time" in Spanish? There is a formula here: verb + definite article, feminine, singular or plural + number. Did you see it? There are only two correct responses to the question ¿Qué hora es?, depending upon whether it is "one hora on the clock" or if it is "two – twelve horas on the clock." They are these:
|Es la una y un minuto all the way to Es la una y cincuenta y nueve minutos|
|Son las dos y un minuto all the way to Son las doce y cincuenta y nueve minutos|
This is the basic way of "telling time," then, in the Spanish-speaking world. It's all about using es or son and la or las and some numbers, right? There are a few other ‘tricks' regarding the "telling of time," just like we do in English: "It's half-past six," and "It's a quarter to three," and so on. I'll deal with those a little later, but, for right now, concentrate on learning and practicing the ‘simple way' of "telling time" in the Spanish language. It's all you really need at this point!
|On to "Telling time" Lectura 2||On to "Clock, clocks, and more clocks. . . ."|