How To Tell Time in German

Telling time is among the practical skills that one needs to learn when trying to get familiarized with a new country that uses a different language. If you found yourself in a German city such as Berlin or Munich, for example, you will have to know how to express yourself in German, should someone approach you. For instance, a fellow traveler or even a local might ask you for the time. Luckily, the numerical system is still very much used in these areas, but if you really want to blend in and show your effort in assimilating as much as possible into the local culture, it wouldn't hurt if you go the extra mile in learning the language.

The phrase Ei ist usually precedes any declaration of time. This literally translates as "It is."

Here's how you tell time in the German Language.

1. Just like most other people in the West, Germans tend to split the hour into halves and quarters. You rarely hear people give the time to the minute unless it's a very precise schedule such as a train trip or a flight. The German term for quarter of an hour is viertel while the term halb is used for half. To say "half past the hour", you say halb [the hour].

2. Most people also use the "X minutes past the hour of Y" format as well when conversing in English. The Germans have a similar way of telling the time in this way. To express the number of minutes that have passed since a certain hour, one may say nach. To say that it's 2:10, one may say Ei ist zehn nach zwei, which means "It is ten past two."

3. The same applies for the expression of "quarter past". One can easily say viertel nach neun for "quarter past nine."

4. The inverse of the "past" is of course the reference to "before" the hour. To express this, you may use the term vor. Viertel von sechs for example means "quarter before six."

5. You may also use the German version of the English "o'clock". The Germans use the term uhr between the hour and the minutes to signify the demarcation and difference.

6. Most television stations would use the 24 hour military time format. Store and shop hours are also almost always posted in this format in windows and signs.

7. There's no going around this. To know how to tell the time in German, you should be good in counting in German - or at least from 1 to 59.

Here's a list that can help you get familiarized with the numbers.

  • One - Eins
  • Two - Zwei
  • Three - Drei
  • Four - Fier
  • Five - Funf
  • Six - Sechs
  • Seven - Sieben
  • Eight - Acht
  • Nine - Neun
  • Ten - Zehn
  • Eleven - Elf
  • Twelve - Zwolf
  • Thirteen - Dreizhen
  • Fourteen -Vierzehn
  • Fifteen - Funfzehn
  • Sixteen - Sechzehn
  • Seventeen - Siebzehn
  • Eighteen - Achtzehn
  • Nineteen - Neunzehn

If you noticed, the format for the teens was simply adding zehn to the end of the first syllable of the number in excess of ten.

For the twenties, the suffix - nundzwandzig  (i.e. siebenundzwanzig, acthundzwanzig) is added to the end. Twenty is said as zwanzig.

For the thirties, the suffix is unddreißig. Thirty is dreißig.

For the forties, the suffix is undverzig. Forty is vierzig.

Finally, the fifties have the suffix undfunfzig. Fifty is funfzig.

It may be a mouthful now, but with enough practice and effort to tell time every time you get the chance to do so, you will surely find it getting progressively easier.


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