What Time Is It: The German Way of Telling Time

April 28, 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Unsplash: Jon Tyson

Unsplash: Sangga Rima Roman Selia

Is today bones or no bones day? Whatever type of day today is, you’re about to learn how to tell the time in German.

Germans believe that being on time is a serious and sacred thing and one of the best ways to show respect. To be punctual is to be on time. To be punctual is to show honor and appreciation. So when in Deutschland, please please please try NOT to be late. If you are unfortunately late, make sure to call ahead about your recent misfortune. Nevertheless, please please please try NOT to be late.

In different places, time-telling is different. Some use the 12-hour time format while others use the 24-hour clock. In many European countries, like Germany, the 24-hour clock is often used. To get the 24-hour clock, add the number 12 to the hour afternoon. For example, to find out what time corresponds to 3 PM on a 24-hour system, add 12 to 3, and that sums to 15 or (12+3 = 15).

If you're studying German, learning how to tell and ask for time is essential because this will help you navigate the German way of life. This skill will also help you understand German culture better, including its quirky expressions and idioms related to time.

The following is a list of basic vocabulary terms. And these phrases are commonly used when discussing time.

  • Uhr (uur) – o’clock
  • [feminine] die Uhr (dee uur) – clock
  • zeit (zite) – time
  • vor (for) – before
  • nach (naach) – past
  • Viertel (fir-tel) – quarter
  • halb (halp) – half
  • um (oom) – at or around (related to time)
  • kurz (kurtz) – shortly

Next, let’s go over useful German questions and what they mean. When asking for the time in Germany, it is impolite to approach someone randomly from behind or to nudge them just because you need to catch their attention. Instead of accidentally scaring Germans by asking for the time in a "very excited" way, start with a friendly greeting such as Entschuldigung which translates to excuse me, and then proceed to your question.

How to say “Excuse me, can you please tell me what time it is?” to people your age:

Entschuldigung, kannst du mir bitte sagen wie spät es ist? (Ent-shool-digung, kanst du mir bitte zagen vee shpeet es ist?)

How to say “Excuse me, can you please tell me what time it is?” to people older than you:

Entschuldigung, können Sie mir bitte sagen wie spät es ist? (Ent-shool-digung, konnen ze mir bitte zagen vee shpeet es ist?)

  • Wie viel Uhr ist es? (Vee feel uur ist es) – What time is it?
  • Wie spät ist es jetzt? (Vee shpeet es yetst) – What time is it now?
  • Entschuldigung, wie spät ist es jetzt? (Ent-shool-digung vee shpeet ist es yetst) – Excuse me, what time is it now?
  • Wissen Sie, wie spät es jetzt ist? (Veesen zee, vee shpeet es yetst ist) – Do you know what time it is now?
  • Wie spät ist es? (Vee shpeet ist es) – How late is it?

Monday or Montag is the first day of the week in Germany, and it ends on Sunday (Sonntag.) Every German workday ends in -tag, except for Wednesday (Mittwoch), which means midweek. Workdays in Germany, also known as Werktage or Arbeitstage, are from Monday (Montag) through Friday (Freitag) and weekends are referred to as Wochenende.

  • Montag (mohn-taak) – Monday
  • Dienstag (deens-tak) – Tuesday
  • Mittwoch (mitt-voch) – Wednesday
  • Donnerstag (doner-staak) – Thursday
  • Freitag (fry-taak) – Friday
  • Samstag (zahm-staak) – Saturday
  • Sonntag (zohn-taak) – Sunday
  • Woche (voh-kuh) – Week
  • Wochenende (voh-ken-en-duh) – Weekend

Knowing the time of day is an important part of telling time because it answers the question of “when” a certain event takes place, whether it is done in the early morning (früh) or sometime in the evening (abend). Therefore, learning these terms would help you stay on schedule and give you another perspective on how to understand and tell time.

  • Mittag (mi-taak) – Midday
  • Mitternacht (mi-ter-naacht) – Midnight
  • Nachmittag (naak-mitaak) – Afternoon
  • Abend (aa-bent) – Evening
  • Nacht (naacht) – Night
  • Morgen (mor-gen) – Morning or Tomorrow
  • Gestern (ges-tern) – Yesterday
  • Tag (taak) – Day
  • Heute (hoy-tuh) – Today
  • Früh (frooh) – Early
  • Spät (shpeet) – Late

Okay, now that we've covered the fundamental time-telling terms in German let’s get to the nitty-gritty part of it and discuss how to tell time!

When telling time, it is necessary to know how to say the numbers 1 to 59 in German. To help specify time, it is also useful to know the essential vocabulary of how to tell time such as halb (half), vor (to/before), nach (after), and viertel (quarter).

  • Es ist halb zehn (es ist halp tzeen) – it is 9:30
  • Es ist zehn vor neun (es ist zehn for noyn) – it is 8:50
  • Es ist zwanzig nach sechs (es ist tzvan-zig nach seks) – it is 6:20
  • Es ist Viertel nach neun (es ist firtel naach noyn) – it is 9:15

When telling full hours in German, all you need to do is say the time and add the word Uhr at the end.

  • Es ist acht Uhr (es ist aakt uur) – it is 8:00
  • Es ist fünfzehn Uhr (es ist funf-tzen uur) – it is 15:00 (3 pm)

In German, expressing the precise time is a tad different, but not so complicated that it will give you a headache. All you have to do is simply say the (hour) + (word Uhr) + (minutes).

  • Es ist sechs Uhr fünfundzwanzig (es ist seks uur funf-funtzvanzig) – it is 6:25
  • Es ist zwölf Uhr zwölf (es ist tsvolf uur tsvolf) – it is 12:12 (12:12 pm)

Knowing how to tell time, whether it be in German or English, is part of learning a language. Our day revolves around the concept of time, so it is essential that we know how to talk about it. Besides, we use time in all facets of our lives from traveling to cooking, even sleeping. If you're wondering whether learning to tell time is relevant in your language studies, the answer is ja (yes), especially if you are learning German. So, let’s get on-time German style!

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