How To Tell And Ask What The Time Is In Mandarin Chinese

  • Jasmine Chiam
    Written byJasmine Chiam
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How To Tell And Ask What The Time Is In Mandarin Chinese

Knowing how to read the clock and tell the time in Mandarin Chinese is essential.

Whether you’re planning a hangout, booking a doctor’s appointment, or scheduling your monthly manicure, you’ll need to talk about time. You also won’t want to miss an important interview or meeting because of a simple misunderstanding.

Being able to indicate the time is a basic conversational skill for any Mandarin learner.

So there’s no better time than now to begin learning about the Chinese time system.

Thankfully, it is pretty straightforward.😊

In this guide, we’ll explore the basic vocabulary and phrases you’ll need to tell (or ask) the time.

You’ll learn how to express time, schedule an appointment or meetup, and ask basic questions related to time.

Let’s get started.

How to talk about numbers in Chinese

To kick things off, let’s take a look at the basic numbering system used to express time in Mandarin Chinese.

If you’ve been digging through some Chinese resources, you’ve probably already covered this.

Even then, now’s a good time for some revision!

EnglishMandarin ChinesePinyin
One
TwoLiǎng (二 - Èr is not used in this case)
ThreeSān
Four
Five
SixLiù
Seven
Eight
NineJiǔ
TenShí
Eleven十一Shíyī
Twelve十二Shí'èr

Here are two important things you should take note of.

Firstly, be careful of the Chinese pinyin.

You may have noticed that 四 (sì), meaning “four,” sounds a little similar to 十 (shí), which means “ten.” It’s common for new learners to get these two mixed up when talking, and this can lead to confusion.

You may have also noticed that the number “two” can come in two different forms.

The first is 两 (liǎng) and the second is 二 (èr).

Èr is typically used when talking about numbers and maths, while liǎng is used to express a quantity or say “two of.”

When talking about time, we use liǎng.

But do note that there’s no such thing as 十两. The correct way to say twelve is 十二 (shí’èr).

Stating the hours in Mandarin Chinese

Now that you’ve learned the basic numbers in Chinese, we can move on to stating the hours.

Just keep this simple formula in mind:

  • Number + 点 (diǎn)

Here are some examples:

Listen to audio

一点

yīdiǎn
One o'clock
Listen to audio

八点

bā diǎn
Eight o'clock
Listen to audio

十一点

shí yī diǎn
Eleven o'clock

You get the gist of it.

You may have also heard people say 一点钟 (yī diǎn zhōng), which also means “1 o’clock.”

In this case, the extra word here is 钟 (zhōng).

点钟 (diǎn zhōng) also means o’clock. But in conversations, the 钟 is left out to make things simpler and shorter.

Let’s now take a look at how you say talk about the minutes in Mandarin Chinese.

Stating the minutes in Mandarin Chinese

Talking about the minutes is a little more complicated, but hang in there. We’ll break it down little by little.

How to count past 10 in Mandarin Chinese

For numbers 11-19, you’ll use 十 (shí) in combination with the second digit of the number.

For instance:

Listen to audio

十一

shíyī
Eleven

Since 一 (yī) means “one,” you’ll just combine it with 十 (shí), which means “ten” to get “eleven.”

Let’s continue down the number line:

Listen to audio

十二

shí'èr
Twelve
Listen to audio

十三

shísān
Thirteen
Listen to audio

十四

shísì
Fourteen

Great! You’re getting the hang of things. Let’s move on to 20 and up.

20 in Mandarin is 二十 (èrshí). Just treat it as “two tens.”

As you move up the number line, here’s what you’ll get:

Listen to audio

二十一

èrshíyī
Twenty-one
Listen to audio

二十二

èrshí'èr
Twenty-two
Listen to audio

二十三

èrshísān
Twenty-three

Moving on to 30 and up, you’ll get:

Listen to audio

三十

Sānshí
Thirty
Listen to audio

三十一

Sānshíyī
Thirty-one
Listen to audio

三十二

Sānshí'èr
Thirty-two
Listen to audio

三十三

Sānshísān
Thirty-three

And so on.

Alright, time to put this into practice.

Talking about minutes in Mandarin Chinese

Minutes in Chinese is 分钟 (fēnzhōng) or 分(fen).

You’ll state the minutes after the hour, just as you would in English.

Here are some examples:

Listen to audio

十点十分钟

shí diǎn shí fēnzhōng
Ten ten
Listen to audio

十一点二十分

shí yī diǎn èr shí fēn
Eleven twenty
Listen to audio

七点五十七分

qī diǎn wǔ shí qī fēn
seven fifty-seven

You could also just omit the 分钟 (fēnzhōng) or 分(fen) completely, especially in casual conversations.

Listen to audio

三点二十

sān diǎn èr shí
Three twenty
Listen to audio

三点四十

sān diǎn sìshí
Three forty

One thing to take note of is this:

For minutes under ten, you will need to add a 零 (líng) after the 点 (diǎn).

Here are some examples:

Listen to audio

九点零五

jiǔ diǎn líng wǔ
9:05
Listen to audio

两点零九分

liǎng diǎn líng jiǔ fēn
2:09

Dropping the 零 will make it much harder to understand.

“Half past” in Mandarin Chinese

We use the word 半 (bàn), which means “half,” to say “half past” in Chinese.

The formula to use is as follows:

Hour + 点 (diǎn) + 半 (bàn)

Here are two examples:

Listen to audio

十点半

shí diǎn bàn
Half past ten
Listen to audio

五点半

wǔ diǎn bàn
Half past five

Of course, you can always just say 十点三十分 (shí diǎn sān shí fēn), which means “ten thirty.”

This is essentially the same thing.

But most native speakers prefer 十点半 (shí diǎn bàn) because it’s shorter and more straightforward.

“Quarter past and quarter to” in Mandarin Chinese

In Mandarin, we use 刻 (kè) to express “quarter hour.”

For “quarter past,” keep this formula in mind:

  • Hour + 点 (diǎn) + 一刻 (yī kè)

For instance:

Listen to audio

十二点一刻

shí'èr diǎn yī kè
Quarter past twelve
Listen to audio

两点一刻

liǎng diǎn yī kè
Quarter past two

And yes, you can just say 十二点十五分 (shí’èr diǎn shíwǔ fēn), which means “twelve fifteen.”

This works just as well!

For “quarter to,” use this formula:

  • Hour + 点 (diǎn) + 三刻 (sān kè)

By using 三刻 (sān kè), you’re conveying the meaning “three-quarters past.”

Here are some examples:

Listen to audio

十二点三刻

Shí'èr diǎn sān kè
Twelve forty-five
Listen to audio

两点三刻

Liǎng diǎn sān kè
Six forty-five

To simplify things, you can just say 十二点四十五分 (shí’èr diǎn sìshíwǔ fēn), which means “twelve forty-five.”

You may hear this used more commonly—just like in English, where people tend to use the digital time format instead of “quarter to” or “quarter past.”

Time-related terms in Mandarin Chinese

There is no specific term that means “a.m.” or “p.m.” in Chinese.

And in conversations, people typically use the 12-hour time system, not the 24-hour one.

So you may be wondering, “How do people then specify whether they’re referring to 5 p.m. or 5 a.m.?”

That’s a great question.

And the answer is in the use of time-related words, just like in English.

Here’s a table of them.

Other time-related terms to refer to a specific day have also been included.

EnglishMandarin ChinesePinyin
Early morning早上Zǎoshang
Late morning上午Shàngwǔ
Noon中午Zhōng wǔ
Afternoon下午Xiàwǔ
Night晚上Wǎnshang
Midnight半夜Bàn yè
Yesterday昨天Zuótiān
Today今天Jīntiān
Tomorrow明天Míngtiān
Tonight今晚Jīn wǎn

In theory, 早上 is used to refer to the period earlier in the morning. 上午 is also used to refer to the time before 12 noon, later in the morning.

However, there isn’t a clear-cut difference between when you should use one or the other.

When using it to refer to “a.m.,” natives will often use the two interchangeably.

There’s usually no need to specify the “a.m.” or “p.m.” — if it’s obvious.

Here’s an example:

Listen to audio

明天九点我们一起去吃早餐吧。

Míngtiān jiǔ diǎn wǒmen yīqǐ qù chī zǎocān ba.
Let's have breakfast together at nine tomorrow.

You won’t have to specifically say 早上九点 (zǎoshang jiǔ diǎn), because obviously, no one has breakfast at 9 p.m.😂

It’s still not wrong to add in 早上, though.

Here’s an example of how you can use time-related phrases to clarify the time of the day.

Listen to audio

我每天早上七点去健身房。

Wǒ měitiān zǎoshang qī diǎn qù jiànshēnfáng.
I go to the gym at seven o'clock in the morning every day.

Do take note that the time-related word comes before the actual time on the 12-hour clock.

So you would say in Chinese “morning seven o’clock” instead of “seven o’clock in the morning.”

In essence, 早上七点 (zǎoshang qī diǎn) is correct, while 七点早上 (qī diǎn zǎoshang) is incorrect.

Useful phrases for talking about time in Chinese

Let’s see how we can put what we’ve learned into practice.

We’ll also take a look at some common time-related statements and questions you can use in various scenarios.

Asking for the time

Listen to audio

现在几点了?

Xiànzài jǐ diǎnle?
What time is it now?

You can use this phrase with your friends, family, and people you’re acquainted with.

A shorter version would be 几点了? (jǐ diǎnle?), which you can also use in casual conversations.

If you’d like to ask someone for the time in a formal setting, or if you’re talking to a stranger, then you can use the phrases below.

Listen to audio

请问你知道现在的时间吗?

Qǐngwèn nǐ zhīdào xiànzài de shíjiān ma?
Excuse me, do you know the time now?
Listen to audio

请问现在几点了?

Qǐngwèn xiànzài jǐ diǎnle?
Excuse me, do you know what time it is now?

Here are some examples of how you can ask for the timing of a specific event.

Listen to audio

你的航班是什么时候?

Nǐ de hángbān shì shénme shíhòu?
When is your flight?
Listen to audio

会议是什么时候?

Huìyì shì shénme shíhòu?
When is the meeting?

Take note that 什么时候 (shénme shíhòu) more accurately translates to “when” rather than “what time.”

Stating the time

Listen to audio

现在是三点钟。

Xiànzài shì sān diǎn zhōng.
It's 3 o'clock now.

When speaking casually, you could usually just state the time as it is and say 三点钟 (sān diǎn zhōng).

This will still be well-understood.

Making an appointment

The tough part about making an appointment isn’t stating the time.

Instead, you will need to expand your vocabulary when making the opening statement, depending on who you’re booking the appointment with.

Here are some examples of phrases to use when booking appointments or making reservations at different locations.

Listen to audio

我要预约看医生。

Wǒ yào yùyuē kàn yīshēng.
I want to make an appointment to see the doctor.
Listen to audio

我想预约剪发。

Wǒ xiǎng yùyuē jiǎn fǎ.
I want to make an appointment for a haircut.
Listen to audio

我想订一张四人桌。

Wǒ xiǎng dìng yī zhāng sì rén zhuō.
I would like to reserve a table for four.

When making an appointment, the other party on the line may ask you what time you’d be free, so listen out for questions that may go along the lines of these.

Listen to audio

你能提供方便的时间吗?

Nǐ néng tígōng fāngbiàn de shíjiān ma?
Can you suggest a convenient time?
Listen to audio

什么时间对你最好?

Shénme shíjiān duì nǐ zuì hǎo?
What is the best time for you?

Just state the time you’d prefer (e.g., 三点).

Alternatively, they may state a time for you and ask if you are free then.

As an example:

Listen to audio

你明天早上九点有空吗?

Nǐ míngtiān zǎoshang jiǔ diǎn yǒu kòng ma?
Will you be free tomorrow at 9 in the morning?

Making plans with friends and family

Here are some phrases you may find helpful when planning meetups.

Listen to audio

我们几点见?

Wǒmen jǐ diǎn jiàn?
What time are we meeting?
Listen to audio

你什么时候有空?

Nǐ shénme shíhòu yǒu kòng?
When will you be free?
Listen to audio

我们明天三点见, 好吗?

Wǒmen míngtiān sān diǎn jiàn, hǎo ma?
Let's meet at three tomorrow, okay?
Listen to audio

明天六点我们一起去吃火锅, 好吗?

Míngtiān liù diǎn wǒmen yīqǐ qù chī huǒguō, hǎo ma?
Let's go have hotpot together tomorrow at six, okay?
Listen to audio

我们三点半见。

Wǒmen sān diǎn bàn jiàn.
Let's meet at three thirty.
Listen to audio

对不起,我没空。

Duìbùqǐ, wǒ méi kōng.
Sorry, I'm not free.

Telling the time in Mandarin is a basic skill you can pick up.

The main challenge is learning the numbering system in Mandarin.

Once you have that down, you can more or less state any time on the clock.

Of course, you will need to expand your vocabulary to talk about time in everyday real-life settings.

Something like making a reservation at a restaurant or planning a movie hang-out would require more than just plainly stating the time.

But feel free to take your time covering the basics and foundation first before moving on to more advanced vocabulary.

And as always, practice makes perfect!


Do you know any other useful ways to talk about time in Mandarin Chinese?

If so, let us know in the comments below!

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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