How to Tell Military Time

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You’ve heard it before. Someone says that they will wake up at oh-seven-hundred, or will be finished with their task at twenty-three-hundred.

It’s a way of saying the time, of course. But it’s a different method than the 12 hour clock most people use.

Like many military skills, such as using a lensatic compass, this one is applicable in the civilian world as well.

Read on to learn how telling time using military time will help you.

What Is Military Time

When most people tell the time, they use 12 hour notation.

Since the day has 24 hours in it, this requires the speaker to either specify whether they are referring to a.m. or p.m., or the other person has to guess which part of the day one is talking about.

how to tell 24 hour military time on clock
It can be awkward to have 24 hours on an analog clock face, but that didn’t stop the Soviets!

This can cause confusion (taking someone out at 1 a.m. has a completely different connotation than taking them out at 1 p.m.), so some people use a 24 hour clock.

Military time is a method of using a 24 hour clock used by, well, the military.

It’s basically the same as 24 hour notation used elsewhere in the world, but with a couple of rules thrown in for good measure.

Electronic watches, especially high-quality ones like the watches on this list, will often let you select between civilian and military time.

But why is that option available?

Why Do We Use It?

The biggest reason to use military time is to reduce ambiguity.

If someone tells you that they will be by at twelve o’clock, you better know whether they mean in noon or midnight.

For most people, mistaking 6 am and 6 pm causes little but embarrassment (or lost sleep).

But for some people, such as those in the military or who are in the medical profession, any confusion about timekeeping can cause the loss of life.

Your situation may not be quite as dire, but if you want to graduate to a level which removes the possibility of slapstick timekeeping errors, continue reading.

How to Tell Military Time

watch with 12 hour and 24 hour time notation
Some watches even have both at once

Learning how to read military time isn’t difficult.

Unlike 12 hour time, which is typically expressed XX:YY, military time lumps them all together without the colon.

If the hour is before 10 a.m., add a zero in front to keep the four digits.

So 6:30 a.m. would be 0630 in military time.

If the time is past noon, then you keep going rather than starting over after 12. So 1 p.m. would be 1300.

A handy trick for going from 12 hour time to military time in the afternoon is to just add 12 to the hour. Removing 12 gets you back to civilian time.

Military time starts at 0000 and goes to 2400, midnight to midnight.

You can even go past 2400, but that’s typically for Asian businesses which end their day after midnight.

How to Speak in Military Time

Speaking in military time is very similar to speaking in 12 hour time, with a few differences.

6:30 p.m. is 1830 in military time, and you would speak it as “eighteen thirty.”

When a zero precedes the other numbers, mention that zero out loud. 6:30 a.m., 0630, would be “zero six thirty” or “oh-six-thirty.”

Sometimes those minutes run off and leave just the hour behind. In that case, rather than saying “o’clock,” you would say “hundred.”

five dollar bill fiver niner how to speak military time zero hundred
Pictured is a fiver. Don’t mix it up with “five” on the radio or you may confuse somebody!

1300 would be spoken as “thirteen hundred.”

Never use thousands, they’re not welcome here.

If you’re speaking over the radio then pronounce each number individually. 0630 would be “zero six three zero.”

For a little extra dash of military pizzazz, say “niner” instead of “nine.” But not “fiver,” because that refers to a five dollar bill.

What Does “Zulu” Mean?

Sometimes people speak in military time and end the numbers with “Zulu.”

When someone is talking about Zulu time, they are referring to a specific timezone.

That time zone is Coordinated Universal Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time or the Zero Meridian. All time zones in the world are based off of that one time zone.

The term “Zulu” comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet used by the military and in civilian aviation and refers to the letter “Z.”

Since the Department of the Navy is the country’s official timekeeper through the Time Services Department of the United States Naval Observatory, and they have assigned the letter “Z” to the time zone which hosts the Zero Meridian, Zulu time refers to the current time in that time zone.

Other Time Zones in Military Time

So, we know that Zulu time is GMT/UTC. What about other time zones?world time zone map zulu juliet phonetic alphabet

The military has designated letters for time zones.

Eastern is R for Romeo, Central is S for Sierra, Mountain is T for Tango, Pacific is U for Uniform, Alaska is V for Victor, and Hawaii is W for Whiskey.

Wherever you are, J for Juliet is the local time zone.

If you need to designate the time zone, slap that letter onto the end of your four digits.

So, 6:38 p.m. would be 1838J or 2338Z. Or, if you’re speaking it, “twenty-three thirty-eight Zulu.”


Military time can seem complicated at first, if you are not used to it.

But for coordinating activities while preventing a morning/evening confusion, knowing how to read military time is a wondrous skill to have.

Why not check out some other watch-based skills? With a tachymeter watch, you’ll be able to measure distance… if you know how to!

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