How to Read a Clock - How to Tell Time on a Clock

A guide on how to read a clock, plus tips on how to teach a child to tell the time.

Updated: November 20, 2021

When you know how to do it, reading the time on a clock is easy. When you don't know how to do it, telling the time can feel like a daunting task. The good news is that you can learn how to tell the time very quickly.

If you want to learn how to tell the time (on an analog or digital clock), here's a guide on how to read a clock, plus tips on how to teach a child to tell the time.

What Is an Analog Clock?

An analog clock is a clock that has a face with numbers from 1 to 12 around it. Typically, an analog clock has either two or three sticks (called hands) that rotate around the clockface and point to the different numbers. The numbers the hands point to tell you what time it is.

An analog clock always has at least two hands. One hand tells you what the hour is and the other indicates the minutes past the hour. Sometimes, analog clocks also have a third hand that tells you how many seconds have passed.

How to Tell Time on an Analog Clock

An analog clock usually has five different elements, including:

  1. A clockface
  2. Numbers ranging from 1-12
  3. An hour hand
  4. A minute hand
  5. A second hand

What is the hour hand?

The hour hand is the shortest hand on the clock. It tells you what hour it is when it points to a number on the clockface. For example, if the hour hand is pointing to the number '3', it is 3 o'clock. It takes 12 hours for the hour hand to go all the way around the clockface.

What is the minute hand?

The minute hand is the longest hand on the clockface. It tells you how many minutes past the hour it is. For example, if the time is 3.30, it is 30 minutes past the hour 3. It takes 1 hour for the minute hand to go all the way around the clockface.

What is the second hand?

The second hand moves continuously around the clockface to imitate the seconds that are constantly passing. Not all clocks have a second hand. If they do, it is usually very thin and bright red. It takes 60 seconds (or 1 minute) for the second hand to go all the way around the clockface.

How to read a clock with hands

To read an analog clock, you have to look at two things:

  1. The number the hour hand (the short hand) is pointing to
  2. The number the hour hand (the long hand) is pointing to

First, look at the hour hand. Since the number the hour hand points to tells you the hour, if it points to 3, it is 3 o'clock. When it points in between two numbers, it is telling you that the time is between two hours.

Each number on the clockface also represents 5 minutes. This is because there are 60 minutes in an hour and 6 times 12 is 60. To tell how many minutes past the hour it is, you have to times the number the minute hand is pointing to by five. For example, if the minute hand is pointing to the number 6, it is 30 minutes past the hour as 6 times 5 is 30.

When the minute hand is pointing to 12, this means that it is 60 minutes past the hour. However, since there are 60 minutes in an hour, the time is on the hour exactly. So when the minute hand is pointing to 12, you ignore it and just read the hour hand. For example, if the minute hand is pointing to 12 and the hour hand is pointing to 3, the time is precisely 3 o'clock.

How Do You Teach a Child to Read an Analog Clock?

One of the best ways to teach a child to read an analog clock is to make the process fun and exciting, while being patient if they get it wrong. To teach a child how to tell the time, you can:

  • Practice counting: Before showing them how a clock works, practice counting from 1 to 60 and in multiples of 5.
  • Draw clocks together: Drawing clocks with your child is a great way to familiarise them with the appearance of a clock and how they work. Start by drawing clocks where the time is on the hour and teach them about the big and small hands.
  • Use a real clock: If you have an analog clock on the wall in your home, take it down so you can practice telling the time on a real clock. Move the hands around and take turns telling the time.

How to Read Digital Time

Telling the time on a digital clock is often considered easier than telling the time on an analog clock. Unlike analog clocks, digital clocks don't have a face or hands. Instead, they have four numbers that tell you what the hour is and how many minutes have passed the hour. The time on a digital clock will look something like the following:

01:30

The first two numbers tell you what hour it is, while the second two numbers tell you how many minutes have passed the hour. Using the example above, it is 1.30am.

A digital clock also tells you whether it is AM or PM. It does this because it shows you the time over a period of 24 hours before resetting. This is unlike an analog clock that shows you the time over a 12-hour period before resetting.

To read digital time properly, you have to know which times are considered AM and PM, which are:

  • AM: When the first two numbers are between 0 and 11
  • PM: When the first two numbers are between 12 and 23

Even though the time on a digital clock will be a number between 12 and 23 when it is PM, most people don't say it is 13 o'clock. Instead, you minus 12 from any number shown between 13 and 24 before speaking the time aloud. So, if digital time says it is 13:00, it is 1 o'clock, because 13 minus 12 is 1.

How Do You Teach a Child to Read a Digital Clock?

The key to teaching a child to reach a digital clock is to make the learning process entertaining, so it's always good to be enthusiastic when teaching a child how to tell the time. To teach a child to read a digital clock, you can:

  • Practice subtraction: Practice sums where you minus a number between 12 and 23 by 12.
  • Draw a digital clock: Draw digital clocks together with different numbers and teach them what the four numbers mean.
  • Use a real digital clock: Take it in turns reading the time from a real digital clock. Change the time and take it in turns reading what time it is.

Author: Burak Özdemir

My name is Burak, and I used to have difficulties waking up in the morning due to unreliable alarm clocks. Over the past few years, I've dedicated part of my life to finding the best alarm clocks and sharing my knowledge with people through this blog.