How to Tell Time Like a Soldier

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 11, 2012 · 182 comments

in Manly Knowledge, Travel & Leisure

Having not served in the Armed Forces, I was always thrown for a loop whenever someone would randomly bust out military time. I didn’t have problems with morning times — those are easy to figure out. 0800. Yeah, I got it. 8:00am.

It was when someone gave me a time that was in the afternoon or evening that I had trouble. I knew I had to add or subtract 12 to convert military time to standard time, I just never knew which one was the correct option in that moment. Consequently, I would stand there in silence, furrowing my eyebrows, trying to make the conversion as quickly as I could so I didn’t look like an idiot.

I always looked like an idiot.

Tired of feeling like a civilian chucklehead, I decided once and for all to learn how to convert military time to standard time quickly and easily. Here’s how to do it.

Understanding the 12-Hour and 24-Hour Time Systems

There are two main systems for telling time: the 12-hour and the 24-hour. In North America, civilians use the 12-hour clock in which the day is divided into two sections: the 12 hours from midnight to noon (ante meridiema.m.), and the 12 hours from noon to midnight (post meridiemp.m.). Under the 24-hour clock system, the hours of the day run 0-23, midnight to midnight. Midnight is 00:00 and the last minute of the day is 23:59. Midnight is also sometimes rendered as 24:00 to indicate the end of the day. So for example, you would say that Thursday ends at 24:00 tonight, and Friday begins at 00:00.

When you compare the two systems, the 12-hour clock has its disadvantages. It can cause confusion over whether a time given is in the am or pm, and whether 12:00 is midnight or noon. It’s also easier to calculate the duration of something using the 24-hour clock. For example, you can more quickly figure out that something lasts for five hours if you know it runs from 10:30 to 15:30, rather than being told that it ran from 10:30am to 3:30pm. For these reasons, the 24-hour clock is popular around the world, and was adopted first by the US Navy in 1920, and then by the Army in 1942, during WWII.

While the 24-hour clock is the international standard for time-telling, because of the rarity of its use in North America outside of the Armed Forces (and some areas of medical and emergency services, navigation, aviation, and computing where ambiguities in the time can be dangerous and cumbersome), it is commonly known here as “military time.” “Military time” has some differences from the standard use of the 24-hour clock, as detailed below.

How to Convert Military Time to Civilian Time

Converting military time to civilian time (or vice versa) is pretty easy once you get the hang of it:

  • The hours from 1am to noon are the same as in civilian time-keeping. For hours below 10, you just add a zero in front of it. So 9:00am becomes 0900.
  • For a military time that’s 1300 or larger, simply subtract 1200 to get the standard time. So for example if someone says “Meet me in room 202 at 1545,” you’d just subtract 1200 from 1545 to get 3:45pm. Simple right?
  • If you want to convert standard time to military time, add 1200 to any time from 1:00pm to 11:00pm. So if you want to say 6:30pm in military lingo, add 1200 to 6:30 to get 1830.

Is midnight 2400 or 0000? Midnight is sort like an ace card. It can be high or low. You’ll hear midnight referred to as 2400 or 0000.

Writing and Speaking Military Time

Writing military time. Unlike standard use of the 12-hour and 24-hour clocks, you don’t place a colon between the hour and the minutes when writing military time.

Speaking military time. When you say the numbers, always use “hundred” instead of “thousand.” So 0600 would be spoken “zero six hundred” or “zero six hundred hours” (more on this below). And 1000 would be spoken as “ten hundred” not “one thousand.” To say a time with minutes, you simply pronounce each number. For example:

  • 0001 (12:01am): “zero zero zero one”
  • 0215 (2:15am): “zero two fifteen”
  • 1545 (3:45pm): “fifteen forty-five”

While saying “oh” for “zero” (“Be there at ‘oh six hundred!’”) is colloquial and often seen in movies and TV, saying “zero” is a part of military communication protocol.

As far as whether you should say “hours” after giving the time, that somewhat varies by what branch of the military you’re dealing with. If Soldiers and Airmen are saying 2:00pm, they’re a little more likely to give it to you as “fourteen hundred hours,” while Marines or Coast Guardsman are a little more likely to render it just “fourteen hundred.” Across the branches though, it’s typical to drop the “hours” bit when you’re talking face-to-face and your meaning is obvious, only adding it in conversation and written communication that’s more formal and where you want to make sure the message is clear.

What the heck does “Zulu” mean? You’ve probably seen movies where combat pilots or officers in the command center say the military time and then add “Zulu” or “Z” at the end as in “The mission will begin at 1500 Zulu.”

Because military personnel can be involved in missions that cross time zones, they need a common time zone reference, so they know they’re talking about the same thing.  “Zulu” or “Z” indicates that the time zone being referenced is Greenwich Mean Time (Coordinated Universal Time), the time zone that regulates the world’s clocks.

There are other time zones that the military references, but Zulu is the most common.

You’ll likely never have to reference Zulu time as a civilian, but it’s something cool to know when you’re reading Tom Clancy novels.

Alright, soldier. It’s 2300 hours here in Oklahoma and it’s time to turn in and begin the day tomorrow at 0630. Lesson over. Now go forth and never be flummoxed by military time again.

Do you use “military time” even though you’re not in the military? Or do you just stick with the civilian 12-hour clock? Share with us in the comments.

{ 182 comments… read them below or add one }

1 howard October 11, 2012 at 11:35 pm

We always use “military time” at my workplace. I work in a power plant for a major university, so we have a lot of men that were/are in the military. I had trouble at first, but now its second nature, sometimes I find myself wanting to tell my family “we are having a party at 1700 hours” instead of 5 pm. I have never been in the military, due to my health conditions they will not accept me, but I respect all men and women in the armed forces. present and past! great post! God bless America!

2 Chip Bloch October 11, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I grew up in a family of soldiers and never used anything but military time and the NATO phonetic language. It still confuses people when I tell them I need to go to the Alpha Tango Tango store at 1300.

3 E.S. October 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I use military time because I like the way it looks and then when someone asks the time and doesn’t know it confuses them. :)

4 Dave October 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Great post. AoM always manages to post about things where I didn’t know about it, but forgot I didn’t know about it and then reminds me, and corrects my ignorance. I have indeed always been confused about converting to military time, but hadn’t thought to learn, and now I know.

Always look forward to what’s going to pop up in my feed…

5 sirciferz October 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

The police department where I work at uses military time. It’s just a faster, more accurate way of writing the time on thousands of reports.

6 Doug October 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Going to Mass Maritime, which is kinda military and kinda not, I use it all the time. It takes the confusion out of everyday life all the time.

7 Keith October 12, 2012 at 12:01 am

I worked at Wal-Mart for a few years and everything there is based on military time, I prefer it because it makes it easier to tell how many hours left in a work shift I have. my G-Shock watch is still set for 24hr time.

8 Jake October 12, 2012 at 12:01 am

Great post! I keep my phone on military time, since I use it when making plans with friends, classmates, etc. Several of my friends are in the military and its second nature to them to make plans according to military time. I got used to it so I could communicate fluently with them. It takes a bit of practice but it will come naturally within a couple of weeks.

9 Paul L October 12, 2012 at 12:06 am

This was pretty easy to pick up for me because this is how most civilian French people tell the time. 6pm or 1800 is “dix-huit heures” in French. Some French people will use “du matin” for AM or “après-midi” for PM. But its rare.

Myself, I have never served in the armed forces. But a 24hr clock become solidified in my life during the summer of 99 when I worked in an IT shop where you had to track events with a 24hr clock.

ever since, every clock I own gets changed to a 24hr display. My digital watch, garmin gps, smartphone, tablet, computer etc etc. I get frustrated when I have a clock that I can’t change a 24hr display. ie. my dashboard clock in my Jetta.

10 Isaac October 12, 2012 at 12:06 am

I use military time extensively in my position on the Communications Team in our local Search And Rescue team. It is very necessary when working in spotty radio conditions – the explicit syntax makes it easier to fill in the gaps in someone’s transmission.

11 Wolfman October 12, 2012 at 12:16 am

I’ve used 24 hr time since I got my first digital watch at 11yo. Mostly just to be contrary at first, but I grew to like it. Makes it much nicer, especially when things run past noon. It sometimes flummoxes My Lovely Wife sometimes, though. I’ve never served, but many of my friends and family have.

12 Simon October 12, 2012 at 12:25 am

In Poland we use either the 12hour or 24 hour standard. It doesn’t matter, everyone understands it.

13 Victor Naumik October 12, 2012 at 12:38 am

And we always use 24h time here in Europe.. So it’s hard for us to understand the difference between 12am and 12pm :)

14 Cody October 12, 2012 at 12:43 am

I operate on a 24 hour clock, despite living in the states and never having been in the military. I picked it up overseas on a trip through Europe during high school and it stuck with me. Takes people a minute to translate what I say or the time shown on my phone.

15 Cody October 12, 2012 at 12:53 am

Fun fact: At first, you’ll find yourself doing math to convert the 24hr clock times to “normal” time; however, you eventually get so used to the times, that you being to automatically associate them with the appropriate time of day without having to do any mental conversion.

I imagine that this is a similar phenomenon to standard and metric conversions. Once you learn how to think in metric, it’s no longer necessary to convert any measurements to standard.

16 Dan October 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

I’ve never caught on to using military time to tell time, but I’m all too familiar with “Zulu time”. It is by far the easiest way to deal with dates and times in software, especially when you’re distributing it in multiple time zones.

17 lUUke October 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

I’ve kind of made my own way of quickly converting Military time to regular. It’s somewhat similar to the above subtract 1200 but a little easier. Just subtract 2 from the second of the two hour digits. So 15:00 is 5-2 = 3 so 3:00. You don’t really have to do 12 because subtracting 12 only really makes a difference when you subtract from 22:00 onwards. That’s pretty much it but, bear with me, this is actually really simple… The only numbers that might confuse you with this method: You should already know that 23:00 hours is 11:00 PM just because it’s simple enough. This is 24 hour clocktime where 24:00 is midnight so obviously 23:00 is 11:00 PM. You should not even need to calculate 23:00 with any math at all. With 22:00, if you subtract 2 from the 2, you get 0 and I just know that that’s 10:00 and not 0:00 obviously. And with 20:00, that would be 0-2 and that does not mean negative two, there are no negatives. Just go back to the top of the numbers. So 0-2 = 8 which is 8:00 PM.

It may SOUND complicated, but I made this system up when I was a kid and I suck ass at math and did not want to subtract 12. I was barely 12 and TV listings were in military time where I lived and it was annoying me that I couldn’t tell what time anything was so I made this up! So it’s fairly simple. Hopefully someone on the same wavelength as me will get this and make use of it!

18 Alvin October 12, 2012 at 1:07 am

I am a civilian (and currently a college student), but has worked in the Fire, EMS, Search and Rescue, and hospital realm. I decided to start using military time because it became less confusing when needing to set alarms or due dates for assignments. (For example, I have had a teacher place an assignment due at midnight on a Friday (2400 Friday) but meant for it to be due one minute before 0001 Friday. That’s a 24 hour discrepancy.) Regarding different ways to convert, I have always found it easier to think of subtracting ten, then subtracting two (parsing the math calculation) than trying to mentally subtract twelve.

19 jaklumen October 12, 2012 at 1:08 am

I’ve never served either, but I started using 24-hour time when I got a digital wristwatch many years ago that supported it. Some of my friends and family think I’m quite weird (they have other reasons to think so, of course) but it makes good sense to me. I usually say it’s because I keep strange waking hours.

I learned from friends abroad that 24-hour is sometimes called ‘Continental Time’ and I had a Russian music professor that used it extensively. In international media I saw that zeroes indicating minutes (top of the hour) were sometimes dropped and replaced with an h for hours: 1500 becomes 15h. I think, but am not certain, that single-digit hours in this system lose the extra zero in front as well, so 0800 becomes 8h.

20 Shane October 12, 2012 at 1:41 am

I work for the RCMP up here in Canada; doing dispatch and 911. 24-hour notion is all we use.

“Dispatch Delta Six, 10-20?”

“Delta Six Dispatch,10-62 as of Nineteen hundred”


21 Brian M. October 12, 2012 at 1:45 am

Used it in the Navy, never stopped. It’s a much less ambiguous way to tell the time. Once I was out I had to get in the habit of telling people 12hr times while looking at my 24hr watch, otherwise I’d get a “huh?” look.

(On an interesting side note, 0000 can be spoken as “balls” in conversation. So 0030 would be “balls thirty” etc. Cuts down on saying “zero zero zero zero” everytime you have 0000-0400 or “balls to zero four” watch.)

22 SanityChallenged October 12, 2012 at 1:55 am

We use it a lot in the transportation industry. It makes things a lot clearer to know the load delivery appointment is at 1600 (4 pm) versus 0400 (4am).

23 Lars Holm October 12, 2012 at 2:09 am

I live in Norway, 24 hr time is standard. But if the context is obvious I often use 12 hr time in speech. “I finish work at five” for example, not “at seventeen”.

24 Andrew October 12, 2012 at 2:21 am

Programming for the web, it’s very useful to know the 24 hour format since it’s used in a lot of programming languages. For example, in html5 the date format used in the “time” element is “2012-10-12T14:21+07:00″, meaning October 12th, 2:21pm in Bangkok (+7 hours from Zulu).

25 Todd October 12, 2012 at 2:30 am

Even though military time is easier to write and mentally process, it’s sometimes a bit harder to state verbally. “Twelve fifteen” is easier to say than “Twelve hundred fifteen.”

Ultimately, I think we’d be doing ourselves a favor if we adopted military time as a culture in the US.

26 Sam October 12, 2012 at 2:30 am

We had to learn it in school here in India. Initially, we developed tricks to quickly subtract 12 from any number less than 24, but in time, we didn’t have to. It became second nature

27 Robert October 12, 2012 at 2:32 am

As someone who just got out of the Army, I have never heard anyone other than in movies and civilians, say “oh six hundred hours”. In the Army we always said “Zero Six” or “Fifteen Hundred”

28 Andrew E. October 12, 2012 at 2:58 am

Having worked in and with emergency services since just after High School, and having grown up with a mom who was a military child, the 24-hour clock was an alternate standard at home.

I always preferred to set my digital watches to it, and I even changed the settings on my cell phone to display in 24-hour time. The phone won’t dispense with the colon, though.

By the way, when I was in emergency response, dispatchers would sometimes give 0031 as “midnight-thirty-one,” which took a small amount of adjusting, but made sense at the time (pardon the expression).

29 Nick October 12, 2012 at 3:00 am

As a current sailor in the US Navy, military time is now second nature to me. I remember struggling with it the first couple of weeks at boot camp though, but I think just about everyone was. It became easier for me to just keep counting past 1200 for the PM. For example, 2PM is 2 past 12 so 1400. A bit different, but it helped me out until I got the hang of it.

30 Lachlan October 12, 2012 at 3:10 am

We use 24 hour time on our pagers and log books at the fire station. Surely there should be a more fitting label for it instead of military.

31 Stig B October 12, 2012 at 3:43 am

I’m from Norway, Europe, and we use the 24h clock. Actually, when I think about it we use 24h in writing, but in spoken language we use 12h. That means we translate written 24h to 12h as an automatic action. I think business and military are the few places we use 24h in speech. Anyway, I had more problems learning to differentiate between AM/PM, and still make a mess when trying to figure out eastern time vs western time vs GMT +1.

32 Bauke de Vries October 12, 2012 at 3:57 am

Being Dutch, I got used to the ‘military’ time at a young age. It’s the way you always write sth down, but on the other hand you would always say civilian time, but without am or pm. Normally you get from the context which one is meant.
What keeps confusing me is however the system of daylight saving time. It’s just impossible to remember whether to change the clock an hour forward or backwards.

33 Michael Huck October 12, 2012 at 4:17 am

In the nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, etc) we use a 24 hour clock. So if you write down 9pm i.e. you would write it 21 kl. However when you speak you would say, “Klockan är nia”. (Time the time is nine), if you were speaking and it was dark out. If you were talking about meeting up tomorrow you would say, “imorgon, vi träffas klockan tjugo ett”.

And now you know.

34 Michael October 12, 2012 at 4:17 am

As Isaac mentioned, many of the conventions such as military time are designed to facilitate radio communications. This includes the use of a phonetic alphabet.

Zulu time (the phonetic of the last letter of the alphabet) of course, refers to the prime meridian that runs through Greenwich England. This practice enables a common reference point for a military and other groups conducting operations around the world–ie multiple time zones, simultaneously. Usually there are two clocks–one with local and other other with Zulu time.

Good piece

35 Richard of Danbury October 12, 2012 at 4:22 am

Like you I was not in the military, but was involved in international energy sales and shipping for 26 years, so I’m geared to military time and even set my digital watches and clocks to it.

36 The Dutch Dastard October 12, 2012 at 4:25 am

Paul L: I’ve got exactly the same thing. I live in Holland, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a digital clock that was not on 24-time.

To add to this my ignorance, until I read this article I never realized you could change it to a 12-hour clock. It did always strike me as odd that when reading military books, there is always some civilian character who doesn’t understand the time. I really never understood why!

37 Shad October 12, 2012 at 4:49 am

Don’t forget about oh-dark-thirty, a generic way of saying early in the morning.

38 Noah October 12, 2012 at 4:50 am

I am going to use it during my 2-week hiking trip in Tasmania! Gotta go to sleep, its 44:00 here!! haha Just kidding its 2100

39 Kaizer October 12, 2012 at 4:54 am

This is a wonderful article giving all the information in a concise manner.
I for one use military time and always follow the 24 clock. Been more intuitive to me since i was in my teens.

40 Kaizer October 12, 2012 at 4:56 am

Sorry forgot to add in my previous comment that i am a civilian.

41 Bob P October 12, 2012 at 4:57 am

I knew the 24 hour clock since I was a kid, as my Dad was retired from the Navy. Then I served 35 years in the Air Force so the military time came naturally. You left out an amusing expression for describing an early morning time: “We are leaving at oh-dark-thirty”. Translation: very early in the morning. THAT is almost always guaranteed to confuse a 12 hour clock civilian.

42 Giles October 12, 2012 at 5:09 am

I’d only say we were always taught the day starts at 00:01 and ends at 23:59. We never used 24:00 or 00:00

This was because 24:00 is the same as 00:00 and might lead to confusion about which end of the day you were talking about, which military time is designed to avoid.

Its also worth noting that there is a time code for each time zone.

43 Eric October 12, 2012 at 5:11 am

You want confusing? Go to the Middle East/ East Africa. The day starts at 6 am. That means when the little hand is on the 10 it’s 4am. Midnight is 6pm.

Talk about furrowed brows and looking like an idiot when doing time conversions. That was a daily occurence for me :)

44 Patrik K October 12, 2012 at 5:36 am

I find it strange that there are so many who don’t know how to use military time. I was never in the military, yet military time is what we were taught in school.

When it comes down to it, we should all know military time as a priority. If you know it, civilian time is a piece of cake.

45 Phil October 12, 2012 at 5:39 am

It is strange this should be posted (talked about it yesterday). I am in the Army and my wife can’t figure out the time system to save her life. I’m going to show her this, and hopefully it works better than how I tried to explain it too her. Thanks AoM!

46 Juergen October 12, 2012 at 5:49 am

As a EU citizen, I am ofcourse used to the 24h standard or what Americans would refer to as ‘military time’. Ofcourse when it is 18:00, I don’t say that it is “eighteen hundred hours”, but just “six o’clock”. On a daily basis I sometimes get confused when watching international news stations and CNN International is suddenly broadcasting their US parent station (like recently with the presidential debate). Then all of the sudden CNN uses a 12hr standard for their US viewers and that is confusing.

I also remember my mothers old Daihatsu which dashboard clock could only display in a 12h standard even though this car was produced specifically for the european market :-)

47 John S October 12, 2012 at 6:07 am

You hit the nail on the head about computer programming using military time. I use it nearly every day in my job doing web programming, to the point where it’s second nature to convert between the two of them. Usually, though, the times are written as, for instance, 14:53:40 (with colons added, and the seconds included, due to a need for greater precision). When we need to be really precise (down to the millisecond), we would say 14:53:40.784. Also, GMT / UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is pretty standard in computer programming when you’re dealing with multiple time zones, although we don’t call it “Zulu.”

48 Annie October 12, 2012 at 6:22 am

I’ve been comfortable with ‘military’ time since I started my first real job – working on UNIX servers. Most flavors of ‘Nix use a 24-hour clock, so it just came with the territory. I don’t usually use it when speaking to others, but I’ve gotten odd looks from my military friends when I don’t need them to translate. I usually set my own clocks/watches to 24-hour time as well.

49 Rhymerdawg October 12, 2012 at 6:24 am

Actually, Zulu time can also refer to the start of a mission, campaign or war. You can have positive and negative Zulu time for what is to happen prior to the at specific mark. Preparations for the mission can be negative Zulu time and execution of the mission would be positive Zulu time. Military missions are planned on hours of scheduled way points. For example at -5 hours Zulu time may siginify the need for making sure that all vehicles are fueled up and ready to go. While 30 hours Zulu time may signify the barrage by artillery at specific point. The idea is that there needs to be a common time from which operations commence so rather than having to say the date and the time the military can mark a specific point in the time called Zulu from which all operations commence.

However, there is also the standard practice of using local time to mark squad and platoon sized fragmentary missions. The size and limited extent of these frago’s makes it easier to accomplish missions according to actual local time because more often than not no one is crossing time zones.

50 Matt October 12, 2012 at 6:26 am

I learned the 24-hour clock working in disaster relief. I read and write in 24 hour time if it is for my personal use, but speak and write in 12 hour if it is a communication to someone else so that I am better understood.

51 Joseph October 12, 2012 at 6:53 am

I used to fly, and I am in the national guard, so I use it often.

An easy way to figure it out without subtracting double digit numbers, is to take the first set of numbers (example 16:00) and subtract simply two. (16-2 = 14) The new second digit, 4, is the time. 4pm. This works until 22:00 when you simply come up with 0, but at that time of night, you can already assume “0″ is the second digit in 10. 23-2 = 21, second digit being “1,” assumes 11pm.

52 Charlie Indelicato October 12, 2012 at 7:15 am

I’ve been a civilian defense contractor for 16 years, and have always used military time in my work-related e-mails and conversations. My watches, PCs, and cell phones have always used it, and I’ve found the members of the various uniformed services appreciate when I speak using their ‘time’ frames.

53 Shad October 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

Don’t forget about oh-dark-thirty, which means very early in the morning.

54 Karl October 12, 2012 at 7:36 am

Haha… I’m European. We all use the 24h system. For us, the only difficulty in military time is pronouncing it as one number. (not very different)

55 Ian H. October 12, 2012 at 7:38 am

My wife is a medical professional and uses military time, so I got used to it that way.

Good post!

56 Dan Struble October 12, 2012 at 7:39 am

You should also include an explanation of the Navy bells system for telling time. For example 2 Bells is 0100, 0500, 0900, 1300, 1700, and 2100.

57 Doc October 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

I’m retired: it’s either daylight or dark. Or, as Sheldon Cooper said, “It may be prevening.

58 brandon October 12, 2012 at 7:46 am

as a civilian in a DoD agency I had to learn the 24 hr system in a hurry and employ the same =/- 12 method. Easier than the phonetic alphabet and not nearly as difficult as memorizing peculiar agency-specific acronyms!

59 caleb October 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

Our timeclock at work uses 24-hours for clarity whereas our calendar uses 12 hours because it is easier when dealing with the public. As a result I can easily convert back and forth. My personal clocks are a mix. Makes life fun that way.

60 Gregory October 12, 2012 at 8:11 am

I work at a research University in the South, so due to high military and industrial population, and due to the fact that research scientists tend to need to calculate time lengths quickly, we mostly use 24 hr time. It comes in handy, and it’s not that hard to translate between the two when you get used to it. We don’t tend to use military time manner of speaking, but the 24 hr clock, certainly.

61 Andy October 12, 2012 at 8:27 am

It’s not official, but at many civilian government agencies (my group at USGS) we use 24 hr time. We try and stick with radio protocol in the field too, but it inevitably degenerates into an argument over the proper NATO designation over a letter, and we have to go to our resident S.Sgt/Field Tech to get clarification.

62 Nick October 12, 2012 at 8:32 am

I use Zulu time (aka UTC or GMT) pretty often. Two hobbies of mine, astronomy and meteorology, rely heavily on it. Weather and outer space don’t really care too much about what Earth time zone they’re in.

63 Oscar October 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

In the Navy we also colloquially refer to midnight (0000), as “Balls”.
Also, when speaking we say each number individually, so 1545 would be said: One Five Four Five, instead of Fifteen Forty-Five.

64 Peter October 12, 2012 at 8:40 am

“You’ll likely never have to reference Zulu time as a civilian”. Have to disagree with this statement. Zulu is standard aviation time. I keep everything in military time, as it’s easier to convert to Zulu for flights

65 Paul October 12, 2012 at 8:45 am

I work for a Canadian paramedic service which has obstinate military aspirations. My friends all make fun of me when I get off the phone with my superintendent after being called in for a shift; “Yes sir. Thank you sir. See you at 1800″!

66 Brent October 12, 2012 at 8:48 am

Being an Airman and a weatherman, I’ve dealt with military time and Zulu extensively. Everything in this article is spot on.

Regarding Zulu, you may want to know how far zulu is from the time zone you live in. Right now from the east coast it’s +5, and the west coast +8. Simply add that number to your local time zone and you have Zulu. So 0700 “Z” is 1200 in New York, and 1500 or 3pm in San Fran. The numerical difference to Zulu from your time zone will change Nov 4th when Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends for most states in the U.S. (Hawaii and Arizona are the exceptions, they don’t participate.) Then it will be +6 for the west coast and +9 for the east coast. Arizona and Hawaii are always +7 and +10 from Zulu respectively because their so awesome.

German also call running around a soccer field buck naked a Zulu, but clearly a different kind.

67 Brent October 12, 2012 at 8:48 am

Being an Airman and a weatherman, I’ve dealt with military time and Zulu extensively. Everything in this article is spot on.

Regarding Zulu, you may want to know how far zulu is from the time zone you live in. Right now from the east coast it’s +5, and the west coast +8. Simply add that number to your local time zone and you have Zulu. So 0700 “Z” is 1200 in New York, and 1500 or 3pm in San Fran. The numerical difference to Zulu from your time zone will change Nov 4th when Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends for most states in the U.S. (Hawaii and Arizona are the exceptions, they don’t participate.) Then it will be +6 for the west coast and +9 for the east coast. Arizona and Hawaii are always +7 and +10 from Zulu respectively because their so awesome.

Germans also call running around a soccer field buck naked a Zulu, but clearly a different kind.

68 Mark Mc October 12, 2012 at 8:58 am

Even though I’ve been out of the Army for 20+ years, I still use the 24hr clock on my computer because I deal with business and friends around the globe. Also, it just makes more sense, IMO.

69 Melciah October 12, 2012 at 9:02 am

At A&M most Corps of Cadet members use military time, in fact freshman are required to use military time, civilian time isn’t their privilege to use.

70 A.O. October 12, 2012 at 9:02 am

I used to work in scheduling for multiple company sites across the country, and we used military time, although we didn’t use the Zulu modifier, just good old EST CST and PST.

71 Ben Thompson October 12, 2012 at 9:08 am

I use military time in my personal life, because of the crazy schedule I keep. Being a youth minister with loads of kids to keep up with that has youth events that often make my sleep irregular, keeping my phone on military time helps me keep the time straight.

72 Alonso Enriquez October 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

Military times take the guesswork out the conversation, once you adapt, Had a job once without a set schedule and one day was scheduled to start at 0500hrs or so I thought. Got up early at 0330hrs did the usual S/S/S and showed up 10 minutes early as is expected by Navy tradition only to find out that it was the other 5 o’clock when I was expected. Sent home back to a now cold bed. Was not pleased that the schedule posted had omitted a ”p” as was his practice.

In my Navy days we never said ”zero” we used the vowel ”O” then the rest always followed by hours. If written the number was used and depending on the writer the option of adding hrs was a personal choice.

Now if you want to really confuse people there is even a much older method of keeping time in the Navy. That breaks up the day into 48 time segments. Its simply called Bells. And it does it with only 8 different call outs.

73 Henriette October 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

Growing up in the Netherlands, I have always had 24 hour digital clocks. When I learned English the P.M.-A.M. confused me though. Trying to convert those abbreviations to normal English is quite difficult. Post midday or prior to midday. After midday maybe? Took me a while to learn the difference. ( I did know they were Latin, but that was a subject I was failing.)
The flooring still proves to be a hassle. Not only is the American system different from ours, it is also different from the British one. Great at international fora.

74 Jim October 12, 2012 at 9:13 am

Here in Mexico, it’s very common to use military time, especially when you’re writing.

75 Brock October 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

I use military time and Zulu time daily for work. Although I never served in the military which is one of my biggest regrets, I have used a 24 hour clock before I was a teenager. Over the years I’ve had several jobs that use military time and in the transportation industry we use Zulu time. Another interesting time tidbit is for tracking / reporting where using 100′s for minutes. An example would be 9:15 would be 9:25 (1/4 of an hour, not 9:25 or 25 past 9) or 9:30 would be 9:50 (1/2 an hour, not 9:50 or 10 to 10). Thanks for the great website & newsletters AOM!

76 Robert H October 12, 2012 at 9:22 am

I’ve used military time since junior high, when I accidentally changed a setting on my watch to where it wouldn’t display anything else. I unsuccessfully tried for a while to get it to change back to “normal,” but by the time I figured out how to do it, I had grown so used to reading the 24-hour time that I just left it like that. Ever since then, I always change the settings on phones, computers, etc to read 24-hour time. Oddly enough though, I still read it out loud as 12-hour time. So if my someone asks me what time it is, I’ll pull out my phone, see that it reads “16:45″ (my phone adds the colon), and say, “It’s 4:45.”

77 Zach B. October 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

I use military time, but am not in the military. I just like it better and it makes more sense. I’ve gotten quite good at using it and understanding it, but i still learned some stuff from this.

78 rhh October 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

All it takes is a time or two of setting your alarm for 6pm instead of 6am, and the value of 24 hour time is understood.

79 Colburn October 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

For my time in the Navy, we always called midnight “balls” 00.
In use: “I have watch from balls to 4 tonight, FML!”

80 Jared October 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

To make things more interesting, most TV networks use a schedule that runs 6:00am-6:00am. So the day runs from 0600-2959.

81 Karl K October 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

My hobbies are amateur radio and astronomy, so I’m quite familiar with Zulu. For 23 years, I’ve been using military time on the job as a civilian. Great article.

82 Christopher Myhalsky October 12, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’m 21 and have been using miliarty time since I was 17, when I first began working in the security field on weekends as a high school junior. These days I work nights with a different security company half the week, and work days at a computer repair shop the other half, the hours I keep are quite insane as you can imagine and military time helps to keep things just a little bit more controlled as there’s less confusion when dealing with normal people (such as my family) and keeping the times for obligations sorted in my head.

83 Corey Brown October 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

Don’t think I have ever referenced midnight as 2400, we usually just say Midnight or “balls” for exactly 0000.

84 David D Nystrom October 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

I’ve never had the honor to serve, but still use military time for my own appointment calendar and daily notes. Always seemed to be a more efficient system – thanks for the post for us non-military types who never had a chance to learn all the finer points.

85 Nate October 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

I made the switch to 24 hour time about 15 years ago and have never looked back. It’s much more efficient and accurate when dealing with work activities that span much of the clock.

86 j. Michael Shelton October 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

Well written. As for your question on if I still use military time/24 hour clock post military….Roger that!

87 Ian October 12, 2012 at 11:31 am

I grew up in the UK and, even though I now live in the US, I have my watch set to 24 hour mode and much prefer it. It’s used a lot in the UK, for things like TV listings, etc. and I don’t even have to think to convert the time to 12 hour clock now – it’s so much simpler not having to put in the AM and PM! I do go for the : format though (03:15, etc.)

88 ren October 12, 2012 at 11:32 am

In Brazil all the watches are set to 24h format with the : between hours and minutes. But when we’re telling the time, we tell it in the 12h system.
Thus, my computer clock right now reads 13:25, but if you ask me, I’ll reply 1:25. If you’re talking about sometime in the future you just add “morning” (00:00 – 11:59), “afternoon” (12:00 – 18:00~19:00), “night” (18:00~19:00 – 23:59). Very simple. Note that “morning” is am and “afternoon” and “night” are pm. 18:00~19:00 means between 6 and 7pm.
We never say it’s nineteen hours, instead we say it’s 7 hours in the night. So what we do is automatically convert the default 24h system into the 12h. I think that’s how civillians tell time in most of the world.

89 Keith Owen October 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

I started using 24-hour time when I started working in telecommunications.

BTW, Brent’s explanation on calculating local time from Zulu is wrong. The Eastern Standard Time is Zulu-5 (not Zulu+5) and Eastern Daylight Time is Zulu-4. Pacific Standard Time is Zulu-8 and Pacific Daylight Time is Zulu-7.

Zulu is also known as UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time (yeah, I know the acronym doesn’t match. Blame the wacky Europeans.) or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

90 Ryan October 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

When I did contract work in Afghanistan, we had to coordinate with different branches of the military and different task forces. The Air Force tended to use time in local and some of the task forces used Zulu. So it was always confusing when someone gave you a flight time you would have to stop and ask them Zulu or Local. It just became a habit to ask with everything.

It is especially confusing because Afghanistan is UTC +4:30. So you had half hours thrown in every calculation.

91 Ziggy October 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

We use naval bells here. One of the computers will ring bells every half hour. Count the bells, know what time it is without seeing a clock.

92 Chris October 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

One interesting thing I noticed while traveling in Europe is that they write down using the 24-hour clock but speak using the 12-hour. So you’ll read 1700 but they’ll say “5 o’clock.” Luckily I’ve always known military time so I don’t really do a conversion.

93 Joel D Canfield October 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm

My dad was in the Air Force so we all knew military time, and I don’t have any trouble knowing that if it’s thirteen hundred hours my lunch is late, but I rarely use military time.

I do use the phonetic alphabet. Drives me nuts when someone says “ess as in six” (or maybe they said “eff as in fix” ’cause how would I know?)

94 John October 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Working in the medical field I use it all the time. I find it easier than the 12 hour clock. I find it hard not to use it when I am not working.

95 Brad October 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Astronomy frequently uses UTC for recording observations and predictions. I keep the alternate clock on my wristwatch set to UTC (in 24h format, of course) for just this purpose.

96 Andrew October 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Being in the military myself, the thing that irks me is when people write out military time with a colon. While convenient to use a colon, it’s just not needed.

97 Deever October 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm


yes, I’m using “military time”, because I’m European. You guys should get rid of this 12-hour nonsense, as well as imperial measurements system. I know both was French a long time ago, but you should get over it.

Swallow pride and give those snail-eaters at least some credit.

98 JAEGER October 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I spent several years working in a 3-shift, 24/7 environment (dispatching) and grew very accustomed to thinking in terms of a 24-hour day. I’ve since left that industry, but have maintained the “military-time mentality.” In fact, I have been wearing a 24-hour face watch ( for several years now, and it makes a difference in how one perceives the day and time in general. I won’t be buying any “normal” watches in the foreseeable future.

Most folks automatically divide their day into two halves because that’s what their watch does. Instead, it’s interesting to perceive the day as a unified whole and cease thinking in terms of 5-minute increments. It can be a subtle but profound shift, particularly with the watches I mentioned above, which track sunrise/set and moonrise/set.

Humans were “designed” to function WITHOUT watches, and while they’re pretty much essential in modern Western living, they can be crazy-making machines. Step back and take a more holistic view of time and suddenly things change. :)


99 Trevvor October 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I employ the 24-hour format on my digital wristwatch and my phone, and I’m comfortable switching back and forth between 12- and 24-hour conventions. I started doing it back in high school, probably because it was something different, and because several close friends were from military families. However, I didn’t realize that “oh six hundred” was colloquial parlance as opposed to the use of “zero.” Good to know going forward, and thanks for a fun article on the topic!

100 Jon Haile October 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I personally use military time even though no one but my grandfather, and several great uncles have served our country in the Armed Forces. I have my watch set to military time and anyone who tries to peek at my watch to tell the time always asks me what’s up with my watch.
I always make it a point though to be able to estimate the time without a clock of any sort.

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