Telling Time in German

By OptiLingo • 8 minute read

learn how to tell the time in German

Learn How to Tell the Time in German

Telling time is an essential everyday activity. So, when you’re learning German, you need to know how to tell the time to become fluent. Not to mention the punctuality Germans can have. We collected everything there is to know about how telling time in German works. Discover the logic of German time, and enhance your vocabulary easily.

Remember Essential German Time Vocabulary

The first step of telling time in German is mastering the German numbers. Once you’re familiar with German numbers 1-59, you need to know these vocabulary words to tell the time comfortably:

German Vocabulary for the Clock

  • Uhr – “hour” or “o’clock”
  • vor – “before”
  • nach – “after” or “past”
  • viertel – “quarter”
  • halb – “half”
  • um – “at” (related to time)
  • wenn – “if”
  • wann – “when”
  • Zeit – “time”

German Vocabulary for the Days of the Week

  • heute – “today:
  • gestern – “yesterday”
  • morgen – “tomorrow”
  • übermorgen – “the day after tomorrow”
  • vorgestern – “he day before yesterday”
  • Woche – “week”
  • Wochenende – “weekend”
  • Montag – “Monday”
  • Dienstag – “Tuesday”
  • Mittwoch – “Wednesday”
  • Donnerstag – “Thursday”
  • Freitag – “Friday”
  • Samstag – “Saturday”
  • Sonntag – “Sunday”

German Vocabulary for the Time of Day

  • gegen – “round” or “-ish”
  • Morgen früh – “tomorrow morning”
  • Vormittag – “before midday”
  • Mittag – “midday”
  • Nachmittag – “after midday”
  • Abend – “afternoon”
  • Nacht – “evening”

Learn how to tell time in German

Read the Clock to Tell Time in German

Es ist __(hour)__ Uhr.

When you’re telling time in German, you need to know both the 12-hour and 24-hour clock. Germans use both systems in everyday conversations. 

Let’s take a look at an example to see how Germans do it:

  • Es ist sechs Uhr. – It’s six o’clock.

As you can see, the sentence structure and the logic in telling time in German is the same as in English. You may hear the 24-hour clock instead like this:

  • Es ist achtzehn Uhr. – It’s 18 o’clock. (6 pm)

While it’s not exactly how you’d say it in English, you need to be aware that Germans go beyond 12 when they’re reading the clock.

Telling the Exact Time in German

Es ist __(hour)__ Uhr __(minutes)__.

When you’re traveling or you have a meeting, you need a more precise time. So, if you want to tell the exact time in German, this is how you do it:

  • Es ist sechs Uhr vierzehn. – It’s six fourteen. (6:14)
  • Es ist zwei Urh achtundzwanzig. – It’s two twentyeight. (2:28)
  • Es ist sechzehn Uhr zweiundvierzig. – It’s sixteen fortytwo. (16:42)

Half Past or Half To in German Time

Halb __(hour)__.

When it comes to everyday life, rounding up to the nearest half-hour is easier. So, when you don’t feel like saying the exact time for 6:25, you can always say:

  • Halb sieben. – “half seven” (6:30)

Now, I bet you think that’s incorrect. It should be “halb sechs” for “half-past six”. But, the German logic for counting time is a little different than in English. Instead of thinking of it as “half-past”, think “half-to”.

  • Halb acht. – 7:30 “half (to) eight”
  • Halb vier. – 15:30 “half (to) four”
  • Halb zehn. – 21:30 “halt (to) ten”

This may take a little time to get used to (pun intended). But, you’ll definitely master it in no time. And if you’re really struggling, you can always just go back to telling the exact time with 30.

Now you know how to read a clock and tell time in German

Quarter To and Quarter Past in German

Es ist viertel nach __(hour)__.

Es ist viertel vor __(hour)__.

Just like in English, Germans have their own version to quarter past and quarter to. And you’ll be happy to hear that the logic is the same as in English. Here are a few examples for you to see how quarters work in German time:

  • Es ist viertel nach sieben. – It’s quarter past seven.
  • Es ist viertel vor siebzehn. – It’s quarter to 5 pm.

The logic of the German “half-to vs half-past” continues for the quarters too. When you hear “viertel fünf”, it means 4:15. That’s because it’s quarter towards five. And “dreiviertel fünf” is 4:45, because it’s three quarters towards five. This can definitely be confusing.

Other Roundings in German Time

Es ist fünf vor halb __(hour).

Es ist fünf nach halb __(hour).

Germans have a special (but simple) expression for 25 past or 25 to. Instead of saying “fünfunzwanzig nach vier” (4:25), they say “five before half (to) five”:

  • Es ist fünf vor halb fünf. – 4:25
  • Es ist fünf nach halb sieben. – 6:35 (“five past half (to) seven”)

This may seem kind of strange, but colloquial German definitely uses it. 

Useful Phrases for Telling Time in German

You need to know how to ask for the time in German. Whether you’re planning to ask someone else, or someone else asks you, it’s best to be familiar with these phrases. It’s definitely a great addition to your German vocabulary. There may be a time when they come in handy.

Asking for the Time in German

  • Wie viel Uhr ist es? – “What time is it?” (informal)
  • Wie spät ist es? – “What time is it?” (informal)
  • Entschuldigung, können Sie mir bitte sagen, wie viel Uhr es ist? – “Excuse me, do you have the time?” (polite)

Setting a Time in German

  • Um wie viel Uhr sollen wir zum Kino gehen? – What time should we go to the cinema
  • Können Sie uns um dreizehn Uhr treffen? – Can you meet us at 1 pm? (polite)
  • Sollen wir gegen sieben Uhr beginnen? – Should we start at around seven?
  • Treffen wir uns um drei Uhr. – Let’s meet at 3.

Why Should You Learn German Time

Time is a huge part of our everyday lives. From when we get up to what time we go to bed, everything we do is defined by it. So, when you’re learning a foreign language, it’s necessary to learn how to tell the time as well. But, if your target language is German, it’s even more important. Here are a few reasons why you should master this lesson in particular:

  • German’s are punctual: German punctuality is an important part of their culture. So, if you’re meeting a friend or you have a business meeting with German people, it’s best to know how they tell time, so you can arrive on time too. 
  • Travel easily in Germany: Whether you’re catching a train or a flight, you need to get there on time. Don’t hesitate to ask for the time at the ticket office once you know how to tell the time in German.
  • Become fluent in German faster: With the list of examples and vocabulary for telling time in German, your fluency will develop as well. Since these expressions are part of everyday language, you can unlock this part of a German conversation easily.

Telling time is very important for german punctuality

How to Learn Telling Time in German

So, now you know how to tell the time in German, and why it’s important to have this knowledge. But, we haven’t told you the best way to learn it. To truly remember and store this knowledge in your brain, here are a few tricks you can do:

  • Use spaced repetition: When you’re learning the vocabulary for this part of German, the best way to do that is with spaced repetition. After going through them, make sure you review them periodically. Repeat this lesson after every few days to make sure you commit it to your long term memory.
  • Practice a lot: Don’t be limited to the examples we gave you. Look at a clock and make up random times for yourself as an exercise. Write these down in German. Practice how you’d say “half-past” and “quarter to” for every hour. After a while, telling time in German will be like second nature. 
  • Say it out loud: The only way to become fluent is to speak the language. Practice telling time in German by literally telling the time. This way you can practice your pronunciation and get comfortable with the language fast.

Learn German Easily

Of course, to reach fluency in German, you need more than just telling the time. You need a whole language learning plan, with useful vocabulary and simple grammar explanations. And most importantly, you need to practice speaking German to actually become fluent. Luckily, OptiLingo provides all of these.

OptiLingo is a language learning app that you can trust. It gives you the most important German words and phrases, so you don’t waste time learning unnecessary vocabulary. Since these are the expressions everyday Germany use, you’ll learn to speak like a true local very quickly. Reach German fluency easily when you download OptiLingo!