In this free Blog to learn German (123deutsch) you’ll learn today how to tell the time in German.

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Today’s topic: Telling the time in German

Today is a difficult topic. We get to know the times in German.

In the German language we have two possibilities to ask for the time:

Wie spät ist es?
Wie viel Uhr ist es?

As in many European languages, we also have two ways of saying the time in the German language: an official way (like at the train station or at the airport) or an unofficial way.

We usually use this unofficial option in private conversations or when the exact time is not so important.

The official time

The official time is really very easy to understand and learn.

For “22:10 Uhr” (8:10 pm) we say: 22 Uhr 10

For “6:18 Uhr” (6:18 am) we say: 6 Uhr 18

The official time is 24 hours. We say first the hours, then the word “clock” and at the end the minutes.

This works like a lot of numbers with units. For example, if we talk about 7.50 meters, we say “7 Meter 50“. This is also the case for monetary amounts: 3.99 euros are then: “3 Euro 99“.

But now back to the times …

The unofficial time

The unofficial time is somewhat more difficult, but not impossible to understand.

We only use 12 hours for the unofficial time.

If we want to say more precisely what time of day we mean, we can name the time of day according to the time of day, for example:

morgens, am Morgen – “in the early morning”
vormittags, am Vormittag – “in the morning”
mittags, am Mittag – “at noon”
nachmittags, am Nachmittag – “in the afternoon”
abends, am Abend – “in the evening”
nachts, in der Nacht – “at night”

Let’s look at some examples to explain the unofficial time.

14:00 Uhr

Es ist 2 (Uhr am Nachmittag).
Es ist 2.

14:05 Uhr

Es ist 5 nach 2.

14:10 Uhr

Es ist 10 nach 2.
If we are still in the first half hour, we say how many minutes we have PAST the last complete hour. We use the preposition “NACH” for this.

14:15 Uhr

Es ist Viertel nach 2.
Unofficially we say: QUARTER PAST two. One could also say “fifteen past two”.
In East and South Germany, people also say: Es ist Viertel 3.
In those parts, it would be expressed as a quarter of the next hour.

14:20 Uhr

Es ist zwanzig nach 2.
Es ist 10 vor halb 3.

14:25 Uhr

Es ist 5 vor halb 3.

14:30 Uhr

Es ist halb 3.
In German, it would be expressed as half of the next hour.

14:35 Uhr

Es ist 5 nach halb 3.

14:40 Uhr

Es ist 20 vor 3.
Es ist 10 nach halb 3.

14:45 Uhr

Es ist Viertel vor 3.
Unofficially we say: QUARTER TO three.
In East and South Germany, people also say: Es ist dreiviertel 3.
In those parts, it would be expressed as a three of a quarter of the next hour.

14:50 Uhr

Es ist 10 vor 3.

14:55 Uhr

Es ist 5 vor 3.

When we ask when something is happening, we use the preposition “um”.
Wann kommst du? – When are you coming?
Um wie viel Uhr kommst du? – What time are you coming?
Ich komme um 3. – I come at three o’clock.

Here you can see a graph that shows you the system of times.

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