How to tell time in Chinese

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Let’s say that you’re working in a Chinese city, and you’re looking to go out for lunch with a bunch of coworkers. Of course, the biggest thing you need to decide on is when you should meet – what’s the point in meeting up if you don’t even know when to meet up?

You want to participate in the discussion and help decide when to meet up, but you don’t know how to tell the time in Chinese.

But suddenly…

Time has stopped for you. It’s time (no pun intended) for a cutaway – you need to learn to tell the time in Chinese.

There are several terms for you to learn here.

Numbers (1-12)

First of all, though, something worth knowing: in Chinese, just as in English, the numbers 1 through 12 are used:

1 = 一 (yī)

2 = 二 (èr)

3 = 三 (sān)

4 = 四 (sì)

5 = 五 (wǔ)

6 = 六 (liù)

7 = 七 (qī)

8 = 八 (bā)

9 = 九 (jiǔ)

10 = 十 (shí)

11 = 十一 (shí yī)

12 = 十二 (shí èr)

O’clock

In English, we can say that the time is “[number of hours] o’clock”. For example: “eleven o’clock”.

In Chinese, we can instead say “[number of hours] 点 (diǎn)”. So “eleven o’clock” would correspond to “十一点” (shí yī diǎn).

Other examples:

one o’clock – “一点” (yī diǎn)

four o’clock – “四点” (sì diǎn)

nine o’clock – “九点” (jiǔ diǎn)

Half past

In English, we can also say that the time is “half past [number]”. For example: “half past eleven”, which is 11:30 (or you might call this time “eleven thirty” – it’s the same logic in Chinese).

In Chinese, we can instead say “[number] 点半 (diǎn bàn)”, which literally means “[number] o’clock (+) one half”. So “half past eleven” would correspond to “十一点半” (shí yī diǎn bàn).

Here are some more examples:

half past one – “一点半” (yī diǎn bàn)

half past four – “四点半” (sì diǎn bàn)

half past nine – “九点半” (jiǔ diǎn bàn)

Quarter past

Furthermore, in English, we can say that the time is “a quarter past [number]”. For example, we can say “a quarter past eleven”, which is 11:15.

In Chinese, we can instead say “[number] 点一刻 (diǎn yī kè)”, which literally means “[number] o’clock (+) one quarter”. Therefore, 11:15 would be “十一点一刻” (shí yī diǎn yī kè).

Some more examples below:

a quarter past one – “一点一刻” (yī diǎn yī kè)

a quarter past four – “四点一刻” (sì diǎn yī kè)

a quarter past nine – “九点一刻” (jiǔ diǎn yī kè)

Time in general

Finally, for all other times, we can say that the time in English is “[hours] [minutes]”. For example, 11:23 would be “eleven twenty-three”.

It’s pretty much exactly the same in Chinese. We can say that the time would be “[hours] 点 (diǎn) [minutes] 分 (fēn)”. For example, 11:23 would be “十一点二十三分” (shí yī diǎn èr shí sān fēn; literally translated: “eleven hours twenty-three minutes”).

More examples:

five thirty-six: 五点三十六分 (wǔ diǎn sān shí liù fēn)

four twenty: 四点二十分 (sì diǎn èr shí fēn)

seven fourteen: 七点十四分 (qī diǎn shí sì fēn)

AM and PM

Now, you may wonder, how about am and pm? Are we going to assume that there no such distinction in Chinese? Nope.

In Chinese, we do away with the Latin-derived am and pm, and go for something different:

times in the morning are 早上 (zǎo shàng; morning)

times between 12pm and 1pm are 中午 (zhōng wǔ; noon)

times in the afternoon are 下午 (xià wǔ; afternoon)

times at night (from dusk till dawn) are 晚上 (wǎn shàng; night)

For example:

7:54 am = 早上七点五十四分 (zǎo shàng qī diǎn wǔ shí sì fēn)

12:33 pm = 中午十二点三十三分 (zhōng wǔ shí èr diǎn sān shí sān fēn)

4:28 pm = 下午四点二十八分 (xià wǔ sì diǎn èr shí bā fēn)

9:15 pm = 晚上九点一刻 (wǎn shàng jiǔ diǎn yī kè)

And finally – what if you wanted to ask for the time?

Remember this childhood game?

In English, we say, “What’s the time?”

It’s about as easy in Chinese. We say, “现在几点?” (xiàn zài jī diǎn)

*tape resumes*

Now you can talk about the time in Chinese fluently!

You begin to participate in that discussion – and you guys all figure out a time to meet up that you all agree on! Congratulations!

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