Telling Time in Mandarin Chinese

Electronic departure boards at a train station in China

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When navigating everyday life, it is important to know how to tell the time in order to schedule meetings, meet up with friends, know that you're running on time, and so on. The Chinese time system is fairly straightforward, and once you have learned your numbers you just need a few more vocabulary words to be able to tell the time.

Here is an introduction on how to tell the time in Mandarin Chinese so that you can make plans while in a Chinese-speaking region.

Numbering System

Before learning talk about time in Mandarin Chinese, you need a solid grasp of Mandarin numbers. Here is a quick review of the Mandarin numbering system:

  • All number vocabulary is based on the numbers from zero to ten.
  • Multiples of 10 are expressed as 2-10 (20), 3-10 (30), etc.
  • Numbers above 10 are expressed as 10-1 (11), 20-3 (23), etc.
  • The number 2 has two forms: èr when counting, and liǎng when used with a measure word (as in telling the time).

Time Vocabulary

This is a list of time-related Chinese vocabulary words. Audio files are included to help you with pronunciation and listening comprehension skills. 

Time Format

Mandarin time is most commonly expressed in “digital format", which means one would say 10:45 rather than “a quarter to eleven.” However, the word bàn (半), which means “half,” is often used for 30 minutes past the hour. 

Examples

Now that you know your numbers and some basic time-telling vocabulary, let's put it all together. What can you say when someone asks you 現在幾點了 Xiànzài jī diǎn le, or "What time is it?"