Learning German but don’t know how to tell time? Check out this post for a detailed guide on how to tell time in German!
As someone who gets a thrill out of learning German, telling time in another foreign language is always a different story. For instance, there are some foreign languages out there that use the 24-hour military time clock to tell time while other languages like English don’t.
So, if you’re learning to tell time for the first time in German and need a detailed guide, you’ve come to the right place. This post alone highlights how to tell time in German and what you should keep in mind in terms of grammar.
German Language & Culture Series
P.S. This is a post in my German Language & Culture series. Here is the complete series:
German Addresses: German Address Format: How to Mail a Letter to Germany
German Greetings: The 10 Most Common German Greetings and Introductions
German Numbers: The Ultimate Guide for Learning German Numbers 1 to 100
German Alphabet: The Best Alphabet Guide of All Time
German Days of the Week: A Beginner’s Guide to the Days of the Week in German
German Emails: The American Guide to Writing German Emails
German Body Parts: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Body Parts in German
German Vegetables: The Ultimate Guide to Vegetables in German
German Pronouns: The American Guide to Learning German Pronouns
German Colors: Colors in German: A One Stop Resource
German Fruits: Fruits in German: What You Need to Know
German TV: 10 German TV Shows You Need to Watch
German Curses: German Swear Words: What You Need to Know
German Idioms: 10 German Idioms Every American Should Know
German Time Vocabulary
To begin, it’s important to familiarize yourself with everyday vocabulary that’s used when you’re telling time in German. In addition, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with German numbers from 0 to 59 as well.
Therefore, if you’re not familiar with German time vocabulary, I highly recommend going through the table below. It highlights all the German words you might use to tell time in German as well as their English translations too.
|die Uhr||hour or o’clock|
|nach||after or past|
|die Zeit||time (general)|
|um||at (related to time)|
|gegen||around (related to time)|
|Morgen frueh||tomorrow morning|
|der Vormittag||forenoon, before midday|
|der Mittag||noon, midday|
|der Nachmittag||afternoon, after midday|
|Der Uebermorgen||the day after tomorrow|
|die Uhrzeit||time (referring to clock)|
|Das Vorgestern||the day before yesterday|
|als||when (past tense)|
|kurz vor||shortly before|
Standard Vs. Military Time
Secondly, unlike America, Germany also uses the military time format to tell time in Germany. Therefore, if you’re not from a country that uses this format, it’s important to familiarize yourself with it.
For example, 2 pm in standard time is actually 14:00 in military time since it’s after noon. The military time format then continues until after midnight until 1 am is simply 1:00.
So, if you don’t know how to read military time, I highly recommend going through the table below. It highlights the corresponding military time to the standard time so that you don’t have to do the math.
|Standard Time||Military Time|
Ways to Tell Time
Lastly, when it comes to telling time on a German clock, there are many different ways you can do it. You can express the time on the hour, precisely, or round up to the nearest half hour or quarter. Either way, as long as it is grammatically correct, any German will understand what you’re saying.
To express time on the hour in German, like 2 o’clock in English, you must follow this German sentence structure to express it:
It is [number] o’clock. = Es ist [zahl] Uhr.
So for example, if an American said “It is 2 o’clock.” in English, it would be translated as “Es ist zwei Uhr.” in German.
Similar to English, Germans also uses the 12-hour clock to refer to time in the morning or the afternoon. So, if a non-native speaker of German said “Es ist zwei Uhr.” the recipient would have to use context clues to infer whether the person meant 2 am in the morning or 2 pm in the afternoon.
However, if you’d rather be more precise with Germans when you’re expressing time in the o’ clock format, you can add nachts (at night), morgens (in the morning), nachmittags (in the afternoon), vormittags (in the forenoon), or abends (in the evening) at the end of the sentence to avoid ambiguity.
- Es ist zwei Uhr morgens. (It is 2 o’clock in the morning.)
- Es ist zwei Uhr nachmittags. (It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon.)
- Es ist zehn Uhr nachts. (It is 10 o’clock at night.)
- Es ist zehn Uhr vormittags. (It is 10 o’clock in the forenoon.)
- Es ist acht Uhr abends. (It is 8 o’clock in the evening.)
In addition, Germans can also use the 24-hour clock to express time on the hour as well even though it’s not common in English.
- Es ist vierzehn Uhr. (14:00=2pm)
- Es ist siebzehn Uhr. (17:00=5pm)
- Es ist sechzehn Uhr. (16:00=4pm)
To express the exact time in German, down to the minute, the following German sentence structure must be used:
It is [number]:[number]. = Es ist [zahl] Uhr [zahl].
For example, if an American said it was 2:48 in English, it would be translated as “Es ist zwei Uhr achtundvierzig.” in German.
This same format is also correct if the time was expressed in a 24-hour clock format too.
- Es ist vierzehn Uhr dreiundzwanzig. (14:23=2:23pm)
- Es ist sechzehn Uhr neunundvierzig. (16:49=4:49pm)
- Es ist neunzehn Uhr achtzehn. (19:18=7:18pm)
To express time in German by the half hour, the following German sentence structure must be used:
It is [number]:30. = Es ist halb [zahl].
For example, if an American said it was 2:30 in English, it would be translated as “Es ist halb drei.” in German. The reason the number in the placeholder would be three instead of two has to do with the fact that in German they express it as half of the next following hour.
3:30 would be “Es ist halb vier.”
4:30 would be “Es ist halb fuenf.”
8:30 would be “Es ist halb neun.”
Quarter To/Quarter Past
To express time in German by the quarter, the following German sentence structures are used to express quarter past and quarter to.
It is a quarter to [number]. = Es ist viertel vor [zahl].
It is a quarter past [number]. = Es ist viertel nach [zahl].
So for example if an American said “It’s a quarter past 3.” in English, that would be translated to “Es ist viertel nach drei.” in German.
However, a different format would be used if an American said “It’s a quarter to 3.” instead:
So, in that case…
2:45 would be “Es ist viertel vor drei.”
6:45 would be “Es ist viertel vor sieben.”
9:45 would be “Es ist viertel vor zehn.”
In the end, when you’re dealing with a quarter past or quarter to an hour when telling time in German, this is the best format to use. In fact, since it’s similar to how quarters are rounded in English, it should be easy to grasp.
Time in German FAQs
Overall, to end this post, I thought it would be helpful to answer some frequently asked questions you might have about telling time in Germany!
How do you say “What time is it?” in German?
There are many different ways you can say “What time is it?” in German. Here are some examples:
- Wie viel Uhr ist es? (How many hours is it?)
- Wie spaet ist es? (How late is it?)
How is time written in Germany?
In Germany, time is written in the 24-hour military-style format, with a colon or dot used as a separator between the hours, minutes, and seconds. e.g. 15.41 or 15:41.
Finally, I really hope you enjoyed reading about the Non-Native Speaker Guide to Telling Time in German. Please let me know in the comments down below if you learned something new from this guide. I would love to hear from you! 🙂