How To Talk About The Time In German

It’s never the wrong time to learn this important German language skill.
May 5, 2019
How To Talk About The Time In German

Germans can be quite serious about their punctuality. When it comes to fitting in and not ruffling feathers in a German-speaking country, being on time is a surefire way to respect the principles and customs of the local culture. Not arriving late to a scheduled meeting or appointment, though, is only half the battle. To be on time in Germany, you’ve got to know the ins and outs of, well, telling time in German!

You don’t want to be late or to confuse one time with another when meeting your new friends at a biergarten or when you’re trying to make a tight transit connection. Those German bus drivers and train conductors don’t mess around when it comes to being on schedule. Telling time in German is an essential skill that you’ll likely use every day, so it’s worth your time to get familiar with it as you learn German. Plus, you want to be prepared if a German-speaking stranger asks you for the time; it’s a simple interaction that can open up a whole conversation and let you practice your superstar German language skills.

Luckily, telling time in German isn’t so tricky. Read on to find out how to talk about the hour of the day in Deutsch.

Telling Time In German

You won’t need much when it comes to talking about the time in German — only the numbers 1 through 59 and a few other words. If you’ve been building up your German counting skills, telling time in German is an exceptional way to put them to good use.

You’ll use the expression Es ist, which translates to “it is,” much the same as you’d say if you were telling time in English. To talk about a specific hour of the day, use the number of the hour followed by the word Uhr, which means “o’clock” and can also be translated in this context as “hours.”

  • Es ist ein Uhr. — It is one o’clock. (1:00)
  • Es ist fünf Uhr. — It is five o’clock. (5:00)
  • Es ist acht Uhr. — It is eight o’clock. (8:00)

Don’t forget that some Europeans, including many Germans, use the 24-hour time format, especially in more formal situations. So saying Es ist neunzehn Uhr is the same as saying, “It is 19:00,” or “7 p.m.” — though if you use the 12-hour format and the context makes it clear whether you’re referring to a.m. or p.m., most Germans will understand what you mean.

Next, adding in the minutes is easy. One surefire and simple way to do it is to add the number of the precise minute value after the word Uhr.

  • Es ist elf Uhr zwanzig. — It is eleven twenty. (lit. “It is eleven o’clock twenty.”) (11:20)
  • Es ist vier Uhr fünfunddreißig. — It is four thirty-five. (lit. “It is four o’clock thirty-five.”) (4:35)
  • Es ist sechzehn Uhr dreizehn. — It is sixteen thirteen. (lit. “It is sixteen o’clock thirteen.”) (16:13, or 4:13 p.m.)

And you can use special time words to get a bit more creative with the minute values, too. Just like how you can say things like “a quarter after two” or “ten (minutes) before five” in English, you can talk about the time in German by using the same sorts of time-chunk words like these:

  • nach — after
  • vor — before
  • Viertel — quarter (of an hour)
  • halb — half (of an hour) (until the nearest following whole hour)

Putting them together, you get examples like:

  • Es ist acht vor zwölf. — It is eight to twelve. (lit. “It is eight before twelve.”) (11:52)
  • Es ist halb drei. — It is half an hour to three. (lit. “It is half-three.”) (2:30)
  • Es ist Viertel nach eins. — It is a quarter to one. (lit. “It is quarter before one.”) (12:45)

And that’s about it! Now you’re ready to impress German speakers aplenty with your time-telling skills.

Other Expressions For Telling Time In German

Now that you’re a pro at telling time in German, boost your vocabulary and your cultural competence by adding these time expressions to your linguistic repertoire.

  • Wie viel Uhr ist es? — What time is it? (lit. “How many o’clock is it?”)
  • Wie spät ist es? — What time is it? (lit. “How late is it?”)
  • die Stunde — hour
  • die Minute — minute
  • die Sekunde — second
  • die Zeit — time
  • morgens — in the morning
  • mittags — in the afternoon/midday
  • abends — in the evening
  • nachts — in the night
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Author Headshot
David Doochin
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.
David is a content producer for Babbel USA, where he writes for Babbel Magazine and oversees Babbel's presence on Quora. He’s a native of Nashville and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied linguistics and history. Before Babbel he worked at Quizlet and Atlas Obscura. A geek for grammar and an editorial enthusiast, he speaks Spanish (and dabbles in German, Dutch, Afrikaans and Italian). When he’s not curating his Instagram meme collection, you can find him spending too much money on food and exploring new cities around the world.

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