Dutch Language Blog

Hoe Laat is Het? : What Time is it in Dutch? Posted by on Feb 15, 2010 in Dutch Language

Telling time in Dutch can be very confusing. I’ll try to keep this straightforward and hope that it helps. At some point a light bulb went off for me and I magically “got it” but it took a bit of practice to get there.

Hoe laat is het?

-What time is it?

Weet je hoe laat het is?

-Do you know what time it is?

Het is een uur.

-It is one o’clock.

Hoe laat ga je naar de bioscoop?

-What time are you going to the movie theater?

Ik ga om 8 uur naar de bioscoop.

-I’m going to the movies at 8 o’clock.

Useful words for time:

om = at

Ga jij om 11 uur naar de huisarts?

-Are you going at 11 o’clock to the doctor?

van = from

tot = until/to

Van hoe laat tot hoe laat moet jij werken?

-From what time until what time do you have to work?

Ik moet van 8 tot 5 werken.

-I have to work from 8 until 5.

What gets tricky is when we start to speak about times that aren’t exactly on the hour. The time is rarely given in exact numbers, like “It is 5:47” but rather it is given as a relationship of times to one another. So it is either so many minutes past a certain time, or so many minutes until a certain time. What can be most confusing is that once you get past a quarter past an hour, the time will refer to the coming hour, not the hour you are currently in.  So 8:20 is given as “Ten minutes until half 9.” Below you will find a list to keep all of this in order.

1:05 = 5 over 1

2:10 = 10 over 2

3:15 = kwart over 3

4:20 = 10 voor half 5

5:25 = 5 voor half 6

6:30 = half 7

7:35 = 5 over half 8

8:40 = 10 over half 9

9:45 = kwart voor 10

10:50 = 10 voor 11

11:55 = 5 voor 12

Basically, the clock is split into 4 pieces.

Anything before 15 past the hour is: X minutes OVER the current hour.

ON the first 15 minutes is a quarter OVER the current hour.

Between the first 15 and 30 minutes of an hour, the time is X minutes FOR half the NEXT hour.

On the half hour is half the NEXT hour.

Between 30 minutes and 45 minutes it is X minutes OVER half the next hour.

Exactly 45 minutes after the current hour is 15 minutes FOR the next hour.

Between 45 minutes and the next hour it is X minutes FOR the next hour.

I don’t know if that helps at all, and it can take awhile to get used to this system. It is always looking ahead, and often the numbers you hear are not the numbers for the current hour. So “half seven” is not 7:30, it is 6:30. This system used to drive me absolutely crazy, but you can get the hang of it, and once you do you will never be late for a meeting again.

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  1. Dale:

    Hi Sarah,
    This is brilliant – the best explanation of Dutch time keeping I have seen so far.

  2. sarah:

    Hi Dale,

    You’re very welcome! I find this to be one of the more complicated things in Dutch to learn, especially if you are used to “half 6” meaning 6:30, and so forth.

  3. ellen:

    You explained it perfectly. Wow, I am gonna tell my husband about this. He never understood my explanation 🙂

  4. Peter Simon:

    Hi, there, nice and logical explanation which also makes it very easy to compare this system with the first-half-second-half imagery of English. Just one more thing of interest: this is a very easy system for Hungarians, as they use the same way of telling the time as the Dutch, but can give even more variations on the same. How about saying ‘het is drie minuten voor quart over negen’? Or ‘vijf drie en viertig’? Would this be possible in Dutch? I think it would be even more confusing, but that’s how it is in Hungarian. Except that Dutch may be the only language where the tens are pronounced after the last digit. Why?

  5. sarah:

    Ellen, you are most welcome, I found it very difficult to explain this.

    Peter: German does this exactly the same way. I don’t know why, sometimes I think it’s just to make my life more difficult/interesting. The Dutch don’t use the exact, precise on the number time very often unless it’s for train schedules. Usually it’s given in a rounded off time, like five after, 10 for, etc.

  6. Max:

    hello sarah!

    Thanks for that nice explanation about telling the time in Dutch. Somehow I started to learn it, although it’s a little bit confusing when it was first introduced by our techer in foreign language.

    Thanks again!

    • sarah:

      @Max Glad to hear you find it useful Max. I still get tripped up every once in awhile…it’s always that darned half hour thing. Half 7 to me is 7:30, not 6:30. 🙂

  7. Alexandre:

    Perhaps I am biaised because of my nationality (French), however I have noticed the Roman languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese…) are more practical when it comes to telling what time it is.

    By the way, telling time seems even crazier in Dutch comparing to its sisters English and German, since you have to tell exactly the numbers of minutes before and after the half.

  8. Paul:

    Unfortunately one error slipped in: “Exactly 45 minutes after the current hour is 15 minutes FOR the next hour.” should be “Exactly 45 minutes after the current hour a quarter FOR the next hour.”…

  9. vadasz:

    I am dutch, and stumbled upon this explanation.
    It is really great. I never realized how complicated it really is.

    Think of it as dutch design. Always unique:)


  10. Pieter:

    Alexandre: with regard to languages one should not be biased, ,or is it inexperienced, because languages are not only rule based constructs but also products of (regional) evolution.

    Telling the time in dutch seems rather regular:
    13 minuten NA negen.
    47 minuten VOOR tien.
    2 minuten VOOR kwart OVER negen
    2 minuten VOOR 15 minuten OVER negen
    Although, except for playful children who are understanding the concept for the first time not many people will utter the time like this.

    Sarah: the half thing is very easy.
    -in english: half past five (looking backward, half an hour passed the completion of the fifth hour)
    -in dutch: half zes (looking forward, halfway the completion of the sixth hour)

  11. Frank:


    good explanation, this is also valid for German times.
    But in Germany (at least in southern Germany, as far as I know), we also say “viertel neun” for 8:15, which means a quarter (“ein viertel”) of the 9th (“neun”) hour has passed.
    Another example is “dreiviertel neun” if it’s 8:45, which means 3/4 (“dreiviertel”) of the 9th hour has passed.

    Is there something similar in the Netherlands?

  12. Leo:

    Het is een uur.
    should be
    Het is één uur.

  13. Doha:

    Gooood thanks

  14. Doha:

    Thank you very much i like this explanation …i have one year in the Netherlands abd i never know how to tell time to my friends here ;)))

  15. Lisa:

    Nice way of explaining the hours from english to dutch. What about the other way around…for the dutch to learn the english way of time telling?