How To Tell (And Ask For) The Time In German

  • Stephanie Ford
    Written byStephanie Ford
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How To Tell (And Ask For) The Time In German

Like many aspects of the language, telling the time in German is easier than you think.

This guide will talk you through how to ask for the time in German, as well as how to give it confidently and in varying ways.

No matter whether you’re a complete German beginner or further along, you’ll find this to be a useful reference guide.

You may want to refer to my guide on learning German numbers as well.

How to ask for the time in German

First and foremost, you’ll need to know how to ask for the time in German. More often than not, you’ll be asking for the time rather than giving it out.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to learn.

There’s only really one main way of asking for the time in German, and it’s with the following phrase:

Wie Spät ist es?

A literal English translation of this would be “how late is it?” but it’s the German equivalent of “what’s the time?” and is commonly used throughout Germany and other German-speaking places.

Another common way of asking the time is Wieviel Uhr ist es?

This roughly translates as “how much o’clock is it?” but it’s another equivalent of “what’s the time?”.

These simple phrases are all you need to ask for the time in German.

And once you’ve done so, you’ll need to know how to understand the reply.

Telling the time in German

As well as asking for the time, you might need to give someone else the time.

There are a number of ways you can do this, and some are easier than others.

It doesn’t really matter how you choose to give the time, as long as it’s correct!

There’s no one way that’s better or “more German” than the other, but you might want to shake it up a bit just for your own benefit.

Using Uhr to tell the time

The German word Uhr is the key word for time telling. It literally means “o’clock” but it’s used in almost all expressions of time.

For instance, it can be used for simple times on the hour.

Listen to audio

Es ist sieben Uhr

It's seven o'clock.
Listen to audio

Es ist vier Uhr

It's four o'clock.

It can also be used to give simple expressions when telling the time.

Many Germans simply say the hour followed by the minute, giving a relatively easy way of saying the time.

Listen to audio

Es ist zehn Uhr dreizehn

It's 10:13
Listen to audio

Es ist zwei Uhr vierzig

It's 2:40

It’s important to remember the Uhr in between the hour and minute numbers, because these expressions make no sense without it.

Many Germans use the 24-hour system to give time in a number of situations.

For example, it’s not uncommon for someone to say Es ist siebzehn Uhr (“it’s 17:00”).

Using these phrases, you can now express any time in German.

Using nach and vor to tell the time

Of course, there are other methods of giving the time to someone.

In English, we use the words “past” and “to” to indicate time.

The German equivalents of these are nach and vor.

Listen to audio

Es ist zwanzig nach drei

It's twenty past three.
Listen to audio

Es ist zehn vor sechs

It's ten to six.

You can also combine these with viertel (“quarter”).

Listen to audio

Es ist viertel nach elf

It's quarter past eleven.
Listen to audio

Es ist viertel vor acht

It's quarter to eight.

Using halb for “half past” in German

The last thing you need to know about telling the time in German is how to use halb to mean “half past”.

While you may think this is the easy part, there’s one aspect that makes it much harder than you think (annoyingly).

Basically, Germans don’t use half like “half past”, but instead will use it to mean “half to”.

This means that when you want to say “half past seven”, you must actually translate it as “half to eight”.

Confusing, right?

Take a look at some examples to help you.

Listen to audio

Es ist halb acht

It's half past seven.
Listen to audio

Es ist halb vier

It's half past three.

This may take a bit of getting used to at first, but with practice it will roll off your tongue like a natural.

German time vocab

Now that you’ve learned how to give and ask for the time in German, improve your language skills further by memorising some important vocab around telling the time.

I’ve put together a short list of essential words and phrases for telling the time in German.

Check out which words made the list below.

hourdie Stunde
minutedie Minute
seconddie Sekunde
clockdie Uhr
timedie Zeit
in the morningmorgens
in the afternoonmittags
in the eveningabends

Practice the time any time and any place

Now you’ve learned how to ask and give the time in German, it’s important to get out there and practice.

And with time expressions, it’s easy to find opportunities to hone your skills.

Just practice saying the time in German every time you look at a clock, a watch, or a schedule - they’re everywhere!

Once you’ve got the easy time-telling methods nailed, build your way up to harder expressions like using nach and vor.

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