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How to tell the time in German

telling the time in german

Knowing the time (“Uhrzeit“) is a crucial part of our everyday life. Especially in Germany, where punctuality is highly valued.

Asking and telling the time in German is not that hard. There are a few simple phrases you need to remember and a lot of the sentence structure is similar to the one in English.

How to ask what time it is in German

German has two commonly used phrases to ask somebody the time. Those are:

  • Wie spät ist es?” and
  • Wie viel Uhr ist es?

Both phrases mean “What time is it?“.

To answer this question, you start a sentence with:

  • Es ist … .

This means “It is … .” You just fill in the blank with the correct time.

Depending on the context, you might want to use other phrases to ask for the time. If you need to ask a stranger for the time, it is good to be quite polite:

Entschuldigen Sie bitte, könnten Sie mir sagen, wie spät es ist?

Excuse me, could you tell me the time?

Often people also ask the time with this phrase:

Weißt du, wie spät es ist?

Do you know what time it is?

Telling time on the hour

To tell the time on the hour, for example when it’s exactly eight o’clock, you say “Es ist … Uhr.“:

Es ist acht Uhr.

It is seven o’clock.

Es ist zehn Uhr.

It is ten o’clock.

Sometimes people would like to specify whether it’s morning, evening or night:

Es ist neun Uhr abends.

It is nine o’clock in the evening.

Es ist sechs Uhr morgens.

It is six o’clock in the morning.

Es ist drei Uhr nachts.

It is three o’clock at night.

In German, it is also common to express time using the 24-hour clock:

Es ist vierzehn Uhr.

It is two o’clock in the afternoon.

Es ist achtzehn Uhr.

It is six o’clock in the evening.

Telling the exact time in German

Telling the exact time in German is also quite straightforward. You just need to know the German numbers up to sixty.

Es ist drei Uhr dreiundzwanzig.

It is three twenty-three.

Half past, quarter past and quarter to

In English, you say “It is half past five” to mean that is is half an hour past five o’clock. When Germans say “Es ist halb fünf“, however, they mean that it is half an hour past four o’clock. This is something that might take a while to get used to.

Here are some examples to make this clearer:

Es ist halb neun.

It is half past eight.

Es ist halb zwölf.

It is half past eleven.

Saying that it’s quarter past (“viertel nach“) or quarter to (“viertel vor“) the hour is quite straightforward though:

Es ist viertel nach zwei.

It is quarter past two.

Es ist viertel vor vier.

It is quarter to four.

Viertel nach“, “viertel vor” and “halb” can only be used with the 12-hour clock, and not with the numbers on the 24-hour clock!

Five past, ten past, twenty past …

Only when it’s five, ten or twenty minutes past the hour, or five, ten or twenty minutes to the hour, do Germans use the following expressions:

Es ist zehn nach eins.

It is ten past one.

Es ist zwanzig vor fünf.

It is twenty minutes to five o’clock.

Es ist fünf nach drei.

It is five minutes past three o’clock.

Fünf vor halb und fünf nach halb

Finally, Germans use the expressions “fünf vor halb” and “fünf nach halb” to express that it’s 25 and 35 minutes past the hour respectively.

Literally translated, “fünf vor halb” means five minutes to half past the hour, and “fünf nach halb” means five minutes past half past the hour.

The following examples show how these expressions are used:

Es ist fünf vor halb elf.

It is five minutes to half past ten (10:25).

Es ist fünf nach halb drei.

It is five minutes past half past two (2:35).

Now you’ve learnt all you need to know to tell the time in German. Here’s a short conversation that could happen when you ask a stranger about the time:



Könnten Sie mir sagen, wie spät es ist?

Ja. Es ist halb acht.

Okay, danke!

Kein Problem.

Important German vocabulary for telling the time

Lastly, let’s revise some German vocabulary that is commonly used for telling the time and other vocabulary that has been used in this lesson:

  • Zeit” – time
  • Uhrzeit” – time of the day
  • vor” – before
  • nach” – after / past
  • viertel” – quarter
  • halb” – half
  • heute” – today
  • gestern” – yesterday
  • vorgestern” – the day before yesterday
  • morgen” – tomorrow
  • übermorgen” – the day after tomorrow
  • morgens” – in the morning
  • mittags” – at midday
  • nachmittags” – in the afternoon
  • abends” – in the evening
  • nachts” – at night
  • entschuldigung” – excuse me
  • danke” – thank you
  • kein Problem” – no problem

And remember that in Germany, it’s polite to be punctual! So when you visit the country, make sure you keep your appointments or cancel in time – latest on the day before!

Learn more about different phrases for telling the time in German.




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