How to Tell Time in German

Cuckoo clock
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Telling time in German requires knowing three basic ingredients: the numbers from 1 to 59, the German words for 'to' and 'after,' and the fractions 'quarter' and 'half' (past).

Here's How:

  • Learn or review the German numbers from 1-59.
  • An hour is divided up like a pie into quarters (viertel) and halves (halb).
  • For 'half past,' you say halb and the next hour. 'Halb acht' = 7:30, i.e., half (way to) eight.
  • After is nach. 'Es ist zehn nach zwei' = 2:10 (It's ten after two).
  • For 'quarter past,' you say Viertel nach: 'Viertel nach neun' = 9:15.
  • To or before is vor (FOR). 'Viertel vor zwei' = 1:45. 'Zehn vor elf' = 10:50.
  • English 'o'clock' is Uhr in German. 'Es ist fünf Uhr' = 5:00 (five o'clock).
  • For precise times, you say Uhr between the hour and the minutes: 'zehn Uhr zwölf' = 10:12.
  • For many common situations (timetables, TV guides), Germans use 24-hour (military) time.
  • Add 12 to a pm time to get the 24-hour form: 2 pm + 12 = 14.00 (vierzehn Uhr).
  • To express 24-hour time, be precise: 'zwanzig Uhr neun' = 20.09 = 8:09 pm.
  • Practice your German time-telling skills with every clock or schedule you see.

Tips:

  • Make sure you know your German numbers well. Watch out for eins. With time it's 'ein Uhr' (1:00).
  • Accept the fact that there are different ways of telling time in different cultures, none of which is 'better' or 'worse' than the others.
  • Remember that understanding the time is usually more important than being able to say it.