Chinese Language Blog

Telling Time in Chinese Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Vocabulary

Something you eventually have to learn in any language is how to tell time. Whether you’re talking about your schedule, making plans, or simply in a hurry and without a watch, being able to ask for and tell the time is crucial in your everyday life. To help you out in your quest to master Chinese, I’m going to introduce some common vocabulary and grammatical structures related to telling the time in Mandarin Chinese:

Learn how to tell the time.


  • second (秒 – miǎo)

  • minute (分钟 – fēn zhōng)

  • hour (小时 – xiǎo shí)

  • day (天 – tiān/日 – rì)

  • week (周 – zhōu/星期 – xīng qī)

  • month (月 – yuè)

  • year (年 – nián)

Asking for and Telling the Time

In English, there are plenty of ways to ask for the time – What time is it?, What’s the time?, Do you have the time?, etc. In Chinese, the most common way to ask for the time is to say:

  • What’s the time now?


    xiàn zài jǐ diǎn

When you tell the time in English, you use words like o’clock, a quarter, half past, and so on. Telling time in Chinese is no different. Here are the words you’ll need to be able to tell time:

  • o’clock (点 – diǎn)

  • a quarter (刻 – kè)

  • half (半 – bàn)

  • be short of/to (差 – chà)

Ok, so if someone’s asked you for the time, how can you use these words to give an answer? Let’s look at a few examples:
  • two o’clock (两点 – liǎng diǎn)

  • four twenty (四点二十(分) – sì diǎn èr shí (fēn))

  • a quarter past six (六点一刻 – liù diǎn yī kè)

  • half past nine (九点半 – jiǔ diǎn bàn)

  • five to eleven (差五分十一点 – chà wǔ fēn shí yī diǎn)

Note that when telling the time, the character for minute (分) is totally optional. People usually just drop that one when speaking. Also, note that the number two isn’t pronounced the same way it is when counting, Èr, but rather with the word liǎng.

Parts of the Day

When you talk about the time, there are also different parts of the day. When talking about your daily activities and making plans, it’s important to distinguish which time of the day you’re talking about. As such, here are some more words you’ll need to do this in Chinese:

  • early morning (早上 – zǎo shàng)

  • morning (上午 – shàng wǔ)

  • noon (中午 – zhōng wǔ)

  • afternoon (下午 – xià wǔ)

  • evening (晚上 – wǎn shàng)

  • night (夜里 – yè lǐ)

  • midnight (半夜 – bàn yè)

    A video I  made that teaches and uses vocabulary about telling time.

Asking and Talking About Daily Activities

Ok, now that you have a bunch of words related to time at your disposal, you’re ready to ask and answer questions about daily activities. When asking questions, you’ll always use the phrase, “When do you…?” (你什么时候 – nǐ shén me shí hou). Here are some common questions about daily activities, along with my answers:

  • What time do you get up?


    nǐ shén me shí hou qǐ chuáng

  • I get up at half past six in the morning.


    wǒ zǎo shàng liù diǎn bàn qǐ chuáng

  • What time do you start work/class?


    nǐ shén me shí hou shàng bān/shàng kè

  • I start class at eight o’clock in the morning.


    wǒ zǎo shàng bā diǎn shàng kè

  • I start work at one o’clock in the afternoon.


    wǒ xià wǔ yī diǎn shàng bān

  • What time do you eat dinner?


    nǐ shén me shí hou chī wǎn fàn

  • I eat dinner at half past five in the evening.


    wǒ wǎn shàng wǔ diǎn bàn chī wǎn fàn

  • What time do you go to bed?


    nǐ shén me shí hou shuì jiào

  • I go to bed at midnight.


    wǒ bàn yè shuì jiào


Now, take what you’ve learned in this post and try to complete this short assessment (in Chinese, of course!):

  1. Ask for the time
  2. Say “It’s five o’clock”
  3. Say “It’s a quarter past eight”
  4. Say “It’s half past eleven”
  5. Say “It’s ten to three”
  6. Say “It’s seven o’clock in the morning”
  7. Ask “What time do you eat breakfast?”
  8. Say “I start class at nine o’clock in the morning”
  9. Ask “What time do you finish work?”
  10. Say “I eat dinner at half past six in the evening”


If you can do those ten things confidently, then you’re well on your way to being an expert at telling time in Chinese. Tomorrow, I’ll post the correct answers, and I’ll also teach you how to use two very important characters to improve your fluency on this topic.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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