Don’t be late for your fika date! Fortunately, it’s not that complicated to ask for and tell the time in Swedish because the language shares many basic concepts with English. We’ll walk you through it in this article and end with a quiz for you to test your knowledge!
Telling And Asking For The Time In Swedish
Some languages ask “What time is it?,” some ask “What’s the hour?” and still others ask “How late is it?” And then we have Swedish, which asks, literally, “What’s the clock?”
- Vad är klockan? – What time is it? (lit. “What is the clock?”)
- Klockan är elva. – It is eleven o’clock. (lit. “The clock is eleven.”)
- Den är (Hon är) nio. – It is nine o’clock.
The answer is either Klockan är… (The clock is…) or Den är… (It is). One interesting note here is how many Swedes refer to the clock as hon (she), even though Swedish doesn’t use grammatical gender in that way anymore. It’s a residual facet of Old Swedish that has lived on colloquially.
In Sweden, like in the rest of Europe, the 24-hour clock is standard. It’s often fine to use the 12-hour clock though, since you can tell from the situation if a.m. or p.m. is meant. A movie date is more likely to be at nio på kvällen (9 p.m.), and a doctor’s appointment at nio på morgonen (9 a.m.).
To specify the time using the 12-hour clock, you can explicitly name the time of day, like in the examples below. Note that Swedish doesn’t just have an afternoon (eftermiddag), but also a “pre-noon” (förmiddag), describing roughly the hours between 9 a.m. and noon.
- sju på morgonen – seven in the morning
- elva på förmiddagen – eleven in the morning
- fyra på eftermiddagen – four in the afternoon
- åtta på kvällen – eight in the evening
- tolv på natten – twelve at night
You’ll get around pretty well by using these more detailed time expressions, but it can still be helpful to learn the 24-hour format to tell the time in Swedish. A rule of thumb is to subtract 12 from any time after noon. This means that 17:00 is 5 p.m., 13:00 is 1 p.m., and 14:00 is 2 p.m.
Describing Time Beyond The Full Hours
The most common way to tell the time is by using över (past) and i (to), just like in English. It does get a bit tricky with the half hours though. In English, we use the concept of half past the full hour, but in Swedish, it’s half to the full hour. So half past five (5:30) is halv sex, whereas halv fem would be 4:30. This has led to lots of confusion, anger and shattered friendships between Swedes and English speakers throughout the years (we assume), so it never hurts to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Halv – half (to the next hour): Klockan är halv tolv (11:30).
- Kvart över – quarter past: Klockan är kvart över elva (11:15)
- Kvart i – quarter to: Klockan är kvart i åtta (7:45)
- Tjugo över – twenty past
- Tjugo i – twenty to: Klockan är tjugo i tolv (11:40)
- Fem över – five past
- Tio över – ten past: Klockan är tio över sex (6:10)
- Fem i halv – twenty-five past (lit. five to half)
- Tre minuter i fem. – Three minutes to five.
People will definitely tell the time in Swedish in the digital format as well, i.e. “18:45” (arton och fyrtiofem) or “11:10” (elva och tio). This format is more common in the written form, but you’ll often hear it when the exact time is important, for example at train stations:
- Tågets avgångstid är 13:43. (The train’s departure time is 1:43 p.m.)
Other Useful Expressions For Talking About The Time
- Vilken tid? – What time?
- När ska vi träffas? – When should we meet?
- nu – now
- senare – later
- snart – soon
- i morgon – tomorrow
- i övermorgon – the day after tomorrow
- i kväll – tonight/this evening
- sen – late
- tidig – early
- i tid – on time