Telling the Time in Mandarin Chinese

What Time Is It?

When navigating everyday life, it is important to know how to tell time in order 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.

Chinese Numbering System

Before learning to tell 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).

Mandarin Time Vocabulary

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

小時 ►xiǎo shí: hour  
鐘頭 (traditional) / 钟头 (simplified) ►zhōng tóu: hour
分鐘 / 分钟 ►fēn zhōng: minute
秒 ►miǎo: second
早上 ►zǎo shang: morning
上午 ►shàng wǔ: morning
中午 ►zhōng wǔ: noon
下午 ►xià wǔ: afternoon
晚上 ►wǎn shang: evening
夜裡 / 夜里 ►yè lǐ: late night
甚麼時候 / 什么时候? ►shénme shíhou: when?
幾點 / 几点? ►jī diǎn: what time?

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. 


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 (What time is it)?

十點半 / 十點三十分 ►shí diǎn bàn / ►shí diǎn sān shí fēn

十一點鐘 ►shí yī diǎn zhōng

十二點十五分 ►shí èr diǎn shí wǔ fēn

一點鐘 ►yī diǎn zhōng

三點二十分 ►sān diǎn èr shí fēn

五點五十五分 ►wǔ diǎn wǔ shí wǔ fēn

8:00 in the morning
早上八點 ►zǎo shang bā diǎn

2:00 in the afternoon
下午兩點 ►xià wǔ liǎng diǎn

9:05 in the evening
晚上九點五分 ►wǎn shang jiǔ diǎn wǔ fēn