Telling Time in German
In this lesson I will teach how to tell time in German. This lesson includes a ton of information about time telling including: half and quarter hours, vor and nach, and a whole lot more. If it is about telling time in German and you need to know it, this article includes it.
Asking for the Time in German
There are several ways to ask for the time in German. The first and most common option is:
Wie viel Uhr ist es?
What time is it? (Literally: How much o’clock is it?)
If you want to vary things a bit and it is at least evening time, you can say:
Wie spät ist es?
How late is it?
If you want to get a bit more fancy about it, you can use the more formal request:
Können Sie mir bitte sagen wie spät es ist?
Could you please tell me what time it is?
You can also as if someone has the time. This phrase is a bit old fashioned. Also, be careful that you don’t mix it up with my second example below.
Haben Sie die Uhrzeit?
Do you have the time?
Haben Sie Zeit?
Do you have time?
Reading the Time in German
To tell time in German, you can simply put the word “Uhr” between the German numbers for the hours and minutes. To say a full sentence, you can add “es ist” in front of the time. Keep in mind that 1 o’clock is “ein Uhr” and not “eins Uhr”. Also “eine Uhr” would be “a clock”, which is clearly not what you meant.
Es ist acht Uhr fünfzehn.
It is eight fifteen. (8:15)
Es ist sechs Uhr sechsunddreißig.
It is six thirty-six. (6:36)
Es ist zwei Uhr.
It is two o’clock. (2:00)
Es ist fünf Uhr fünfundfünfzig.
It is fife fifty-five. (5:55)
German Time Telling with “nach”
Use “nach” to say that the time is a number of minutes after the hour. You can also include “Minuten” in your sentence, if you like, but it is not necessary. You can also leave out the “Uhr” when you form your sentences like this. If you leave out the word “Uhr” with “ein Uhr” it becomes “eins” instead.
Es ist drei Minuten nach vier.
It is three minutes after four. (4:03)
Es ist elf Minuten nach ein Uhr. Es ist elf Minuten nach eins.
It is eleven minutes after one o’clock. (1:11)
Es ist vierundzwanzig nach drei.
It is twenty-four minutes after three. (3:24)
Es ist fünf nach acht.
It is five after eight. (8:05)
Es ist zehn Minuten nach zwölf.
It is ten minutes after twelve. (12:10)
Es ist fünfzehn Minuten nach drei Uhr.
It is fifteen minutes after three o’clock. (3:15)
Telling Time in German with “vor”
Use “vor” to say that the time is a number of minutes before the hour. The same rules as before (with regards to “Minuten” and “Uhr”) still apply.
Es ist fünf vor sechs.
It is five til six. (5:55)
Es ist zehn Minuten vor zwei.
It is ten minutes before two. (1:50)
Es ist dreizehn Minuten vor sieben Uhr.
It is thirteen minutes before seven o’clock. (6:47)
Es ist zwanzig vor neun.
It is twenty until nine. (8:40)
Es ist fünfundzwanzig Minuten vor sechs.
It is twenty-five minutes before six. (5:35)
Es ist dreißig Minuten vor sieben Uhr.
It is thirty minutes before seven o’clock. (6:30)
AM & PM in German
What you may not have realized about all of those examples I just gave is that every one of them is in the morning. That’s because the Germans use the 24 hour clock. In order to say a time that is after zwölf Uhr (12 o’clock), you simply count up to the next hour, dreizehn Uhr (13 o’clock), vierzehn Uhr (14 o’clock), etc.
If you have trouble with this, take any number that is over 12 and subtract 12 from it to get the hour in the 12 hour system. It is common to use the 12 hour system in conversational German, as you can tell based on context if you mean morning or afternoon, but any written or official time telling will be done in the 24 hour system, because there is no obligatory a.m. or p.m. equivalent like we have in English.
Es ist vierzehn Uhr dreißig.
It is fourteen thirty. (14:30)
Es ist zehn vor siebzehn Uhr.
It is ten before seventeen o’clock. (16:50)
Es ist dreiundzwanzig Uhr zwölf.
It is twenty-three twelve. (23:12)
Telling Time with half hours
In German, you don’t always have to give the precise minutes and hours of the day. You can split the hours into quarters and halves like you do in English. Unlike in English, however, the German phrase “halb vier” doesn’t translate as “half past four”, but instead “half until four”. This is a bit disorienting at first, but is quite simple once you understand it. Here are a few examples to help you get acclimated to this idea.
halb sechs – 5:30
halb fünfzehn – 14:30 (2:30 pm)
halb eins – 12:30
halb zehn – 9:30
halb + vor & nach
A strange version of this would include the use of “vor” or “nach” and a number of minutes, usually 5 or 10. This requires you to do a quick math problem in your head if you are an English native speaker. “fünf vor halb sieben” for example would translate literally as “5 til half of seven”. “halb sieben” is 6:30. Fünf Minuten before that is sechs Uhr fünfundzwanzig (6:25), so fünf vor halb sieben is actually 6:25. Here are a few more examples of this complicated mess.
fünf vor halb neun – 8:25
fünf nach halb vier – 3:35
zehn vor halb elf – 10:20
zehn nach halb dreizehn – 12:40
Telling Time with quarter hours
Just like in English you can use quarter hours to say it is 15 minutes before or after the hour. Simply use “vor” or “nach” like we did in all of the other examples with the word “Viertel”, which is German for quarter.
Viertel vor drei
Quarter until three (2:45)
Viertel nach acht
Quarter after eight (8:15)
Viertel vor zehn
Quarter until ten (9:45)
Viertel nach fünf
Quarter after five (5:15)
Es ist Viertel vor zehn.
It is quarter until ten. (9:45)
Es ist ein Viertel vor elf Uhr.
It is a quarter until eleven o’clock. (10:45)
Es ist Viertel nach eins.
It is quarter past one. (1:15)
Es ist ein Viertel nach zwei Uhr.
It is a quarter past two o’clock. (2:15)
Viertel without vor or nach
There are also two weird ways to use the word “Viertel”. If you leave out the words “vor” or “nach”, you have a similar math question to that, which we did with “halb”. In these examples, the phrase becomes a quarter of the way towards a particular hour. For example:
Viertel elf – 10:15
Viertel neun – 8:15
You can also say “drei Viertel”, which is three quarters of the way towards the next hour. This is by far the most confusing time expression my students encounter. Here are a few examples of it.
drei Viertel vier – 3:45
drei Viertel sieben – 6:45
Parts of the Day
Now that we have all of the time expressions out of the way, you can start classifying the times of the day into parts of the day. I mentioned in the previous lesson that there is no obligatory AM or PM in German, as there is in English. You can, however, classify the time of the day like this if you want. The words you need are “Morgen” (morning), “Mittag” (midday), “Nachmittag” (afternoon), “Abend” (evening) and “Nacht” (night). For most of these, you can add “am” in front of them to mean “in the”. The only exception to that is “Nacht”, which requires you to switch to the phrase “in der Nacht”. Here are a few examples of how to use these expressions in a sentence.
Es ist zehn Uhr am Morgen.
It is ten o’clock in the morning.
Es ist zwölf Uhr am Mittag.
It is twelve o’clock in midday.
Es ist zwei Uhr am Nachmittag.
It is two o’clock in the afternoon.
Es ist sechs Uhr am Abend.
It is six o’clock in the evening.
Es ist zehn Uhr in der Nacht.
It is ten o’clock at night.
Parts of the Day without Prepositions
You can use these words without a preposition (that’s what “am” and “in” are doing in those other sentences), if you add an “S”. If you use one of these words with an “S” at the end of it, it is no longer capitalized, as it is technically no longer a noun. If you use it with a specific time of the day, the meaning doesn’t change from what it was in the previous examples.
Es ist zehn Uhr morgens.
It is ten o’clock in the morning.
Es ist zwölf Uhr mittags.
It is twelve o’clock in the midday.
Es ist zwei Uhr nachmittags.
It is two o’clock in the afternoon.
Parts of the Day without Specific Time
If you use these versions without a specific time of day, it becomes a generalization about that part of the day. These words indicate repeated actions during those times of the day. In both German and English, you can start your sentence with these words. If you do that, you need to move the subject to the other side of the verb. I think of it as having the subject and verb attached with a string. They have to be next to each other, so if the first spot is taken by something else, in this case the time, the subject has to move to the other side. Unlike in English, however, you don’t need a comma between the time and the verb.
Morgens esse ich Brötchen mit Marmelade.
Mornings, I eat rolls with jam.
Mittags fahre ich zur Uni.
Middays, I drive to the university.
Nachmittags schlafe ich.
Afternoons, I sleep.
Abends lese ich.
Evenings, I read.
Nachts spiele ich Fortnite.
Nights, I play Fortnite.
Days of the Week
You can use both of these options with the days of the week, too. You can use them with “am” to indicate a specific Monday, Tuesday or other day of the week or you can use the days with an “S” at the end of the word to indicate a recurring action. . The same capitalization rules as before apply. If there is an “S” at the end of the word, it is not capitalized.
Montags arbeite ich nicht gern.
Mondays, I don’t like to work.
Am Dienstag schreibt er einen Brief.
On Tuesday, he is writing a letter.
Was machst du am Mittwoch?
What are you doing on Wednesday?
Wir suchen donnerstags neue Bücher.
We look Thursdays for new books.
Am Freitag rede ich mit meinem Chef.
On Friday, I am talking with my boss.
Samstags fühlt er am besten.
Saturdays, he feels the best.
Das Restaurant bietet sonnabends Rinderbraten an.
The restaurant offers roast beef on Saturdays.
Ich besuche am Sonntag eine Kirche.
I am attending a church on Sunday.