Dutch Language Blog

Telling Time in Dutch: A Refresher Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

Let’s take a look at how to tell time in Dutch, and some useful sentences and information around the time in the Netherlands. Always useful to be able to figure out the time, especially if you don’t have a watch or phone on you! Here’s some tips, things to look out for, and how it sounds!

If you need a refresher on Dutch numbers and counting, check out this post.

The Journey from One Hour to the Next

Image by Renee Verberne at Unsplash.com

We’ve explained before how to tell the time, but here’s a quick refresher.

While the Netherlands uses the 24-hour time system, so at 1 pm it is 13:00, we barely ever say dertien uur (thirteen o’clock), but stick with één uur (one o’clock) etcetera. You could use the full 24 getallen (numbers), but it is quite uncommon.

Let’s go over every common time within an hour. First the Dutch notation, then the English. Then how you would say that in Dutch, with a literal translation in quotes and an actual translation behind it. Let’s go from drie uur to vier uur!

15:00 – 3 pm

drie uur (“three hours”, three pm/three o’clock)

15:05 – 3:05

vijf over drie (“five over three”, five past three/three oh five)

15:10 – 3:10

tien over drie (“ten over three”, ten past three)

15:15 – 3:15

kwart over drie (“quarter over three”, quarter past three/three fifteen)

15:20 – 15:20

Tien voor half vier/twintig over drie (“ten before half four/twenty over three”, three twenty)

15:25 – 3:25

Vijf voor half vier (“five before half four“, three twenty-five)

15:30 – 3:30

half vier (“half four“, half three/three thirty)

15:35 – 3:35

Vijf over half vier (“five past half four“, three thirty-five)

15:40 – 3:40

Tien over half vier/twintig voor vier (“ten over half four/twenty before four”, ten past half three)

15:45 – 3:45

Kwart voor vier (“quarter before four”, quarter to four/three forty-five)

15:50 – 3:50

Tien voor vier (“ten before four”, ten to four/three fifty)

15:55 – 3:55

Vijf voor vier (“five before four”, five to four/three fifty-five)

16:00 – 4 pm

vier uur (“four hours”, four pm/four o’clock)

There we are!

Now, if you look closely, you can see a pattern. The Dutch switch halfway the hour, departing from the past hour towards the coming one.

So first it is … over (past) three. Then after the half hour, it becomes voor (before, to).

This logic is broken a bit with the minutes around the half hour. Here we’re arriving at the half hour and departing from it after it passed, too. In Dutch, the minutes between :20 and :30 are voor half… (before/to half…) and the minutes between :30 and :40 are over half… (over half…).

And let’s shortly talk about that half. While in British English, I was super confused that half three would mean 3:30, NOT 2:30. In both my mother tongues, German and Dutch, halb drei (in German) and half drie (in Dutch) would mean 2:30. I think it’s easy to remember if you visualize, like I said above, the whole thing as a journey, from one hour to the next. And we’re building up to it, so once we’re halfway, we’re at, in this case, half vier (“half four”, three thirty). I find the English doubly confusing, because when a half is added, it comes after the number, like “three-and-a-half”. Also, if we’re talking about a journey, if you go from London to Amsterdam, and you arrive in Brussels, are you then not “halfway to Amsterdam”? THAT makes sense in English, so perhaps try and remember the journey!

Then, there’s the minutes past thirty. Again, we first have the over half… minutes. Then the quarter to, ten to, five to, and the full hour. Pretty straightforward!

Now, when you have odd minutes, like 3:52, 3:18 or 3:34, we’d say it in this same context. So like in English, 3:52 becomes “eight to four”, the Dutch say acht voor vier. 3:18 becomes “three eighteen” in English and achttien over drie in Dutch.

And while 3:34 becomes “three thirty-four” in English, the Dutch use their revolve around the half hour for this, too. The Dutch say vier over half vier (“four past half four”).

There you go! Wasn’t so hard, right?

What about the 24-hour system?

The 24-hour system is only used in very official things, to maximize clarity and avoid confusion. For example, like in the omroep (announcement) above of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the time 16:33 is pronounced as zestien uur drieëndertig (“sixteen hours thirty-three”).

Notice here that the uur (o’clock) is pronounced between the hour and minutes. So you could read the separator : as uur! This is also the case if you pronounce hours like this, but in the 12-hour system. So 17:18 could become vijf uur achttien. However, that’s a bit confusing.

But if the Dutch don’t use the 24-hour system in their day-to-day speech (so vier uur instead of zestien uur), how do they differentiate the times of day?

s morgens, ‘s middags, ‘s avonds, ‘s nachts

Ik heb ‘s morgens een afspraak om half negen.

(I have an appointment at half past eight in the morning.)

The Dutch use an apostrophe-s (‘s) for the morgen (morning), middag (midday/noon/afternoon), avond (evening) and nacht (night). There are also ways to make these time indications more precise. For example, achter in de middag (“at the back of midday”, late afternoon), or namiddag (literally afternoon, but it is sometimes used interchangeably with middag).

These forms also exist for the other times of the day. Voormiddag is “before noon”, or vooravond is “early evening”. Voormorgen does not exist, but voornacht does.

Na (after) is really only used for namiddag. Namorgen and na-avond, even nanacht do exist, but you hear them very rarely. That gives them a certain magic, I suppose, and logic prescribes that they should exist! So why not give them a shot the next time you speak Dutch?

Asking for the time

Sorry, hoe laat is het nu?

(Excuse me, what time is it now?)

Hoe laat/wanneer begint het journaal?

(At what time/when does the news begin?)

Het nieuws begint om acht uur.

(The news begins at eight o’clock.)


(Thank you! [formal])

Hoe laat (how late) is a common way to ask the time in the Netherlands. That specifically asks for a time, whereas wanneer simply means when. So that could also get a response like na het avondeten (after dinner).

I hope this information helped you out a bit in telling the time in Dutch! Any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.