Telling the time in German

How do you tell the time in German? This is a good question. Germans sometimes have interesting ways of telling the time – especially from an English point of view. So let’s go through all of them and you will see, that it is actually not that difficult.

If you want to ask for the time in German, you ask: “Wie viel Uhr ist es?” (What time is it?)

The other person will then respond: “Es ist …” (It’s …)

On the hour

If you want to express a time on the hour German uses the same structure as English does. Just use the following sentence structure:

“Es ist [Number] Uhr” – “It is [number] o’clock” (e.g. “Es ist 10 Uhr”) or

Es ist Punkt [Number]” – “It is [number] sharp” (e.g. “Es ist Punkt 10”)

In German, you can both use the 12-hour clock system that is used in English and the 24-hour clock system that is used in many other countries and languages.

Accordingly 14:00 can be both “2 Uhr nachmittags” (2 p.m. / 2 o’clock in the afternoon) and “14 Uhr”.

Half past, Half to

When it comes to a time like 11:30, for example, German tends to be a little more difficult. In this case, in German you would say: “Es ist halb 12.” So as you can see we don’t say “half past“, but “half to“. German talks about the hour to come, and not the hour you’re currently in – so half past 11 would become half to 12. This might seem difficult at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly. We can tell you from our own experience, because we had to learn it the other way around 😉

Here are some examples:

9:30 = halb 10; 7:30 = halb 8; 5:30 = halb 6

Quarter past, Quarter to

In German it is also common to round up different times like quarter past and quarter to for example. The sentence structure is basically the same as in English:

“Es ist viertel nach [number]” –  “It is quarter past [number]” (e.g. “Es ist viertel nach 12.”)
Es ist viertel vor [number]”  “It is quarter to [number]” (e.g. “Es ist viertel nach 2.”)

The exact time

Alternatively, German also allows you to tell the precise time and this is actually not an uncommon thing to do. The structure for that is:

Es ist [number] Uhr [number]”  “It is [number] o’clock [number]” (e.g. “Es ist 14 Uhr 17.”)

As you can see, if you tell the exact time, in German we use the 24-hour system. Everything else is the same as in English.

Let’s summarize

Wie spät ist es?What time is it?
Es ist …It is …
Es ist halb 12.It is half past 11.
Es ist 11 Uhr.It is 11 o’clock.
Es ist Punkt 11.It is 11 sharp.
Es ist viertel vor 2.It is quarter to 2.
Es ist viertel nach 5.It is quarter past 5.
Es ist 14 Uhr 9. (14:09)It is 2:09 pm.
Es ist 19 Uhr 24. (19:24)It is 7:24 pm.
Die UhrzeitThe time

Would you like to learn more about this and other basic topics of German? Then check out our courses:

These courses cover the most important aspects for learning German at a beginner level. While the first course (German Basics in 1 hour) is meant to give you a little overview and get into contact with the language, the second course (German Beginner Course) goes a lot deeper and brings you to the language level A1.

Both courses are full with useful exercises and quizzes, as well as downloadable .pdf-resources and many other things. So if you are interested, I we would be really happy to see you there!