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Telling the time in German: Around the clock in 5-minute steps, part 2 Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 in Language

This is the continuation of my last post in which I told how to read the time when using mechanical clocks. As a matter of fact, it is often quite difficult to tell the exact time when using mechanical clocks or watches. This is especially true when the big hand of you watch is somewhere between two of the major numbers on you clock-face, for example, between 2 and 3, 4 and 5, 8 and 9, etc.

In such cases you can use the German phrases “kurz nach” (lit. short past) and “kurz vor” (lit. short to) in order to tell the approximate time. In the following video I explain when and how you can use these phrases.



Mind, when you would like to tell the time like this – omission of the words “Minute/n” (minute/s) and “Uhr” (o’clock) – you cannot use the 24-hour system. It simply sounds awkward when you say, for example, Es ist kurz nach vierzehn. (lit. It’s short past fourteen.)

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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. Irina:

    Hi Sandra,

    I am really not sure whether this video is helpful. First of all, the Berlin Brandenburg style is NOT understood by Germans who don’t know it. I know many of them and despite all my efforts in explaining they do not understand neither viertel nor dreiviertel. If your students learn this, they will not be understood in large parts of Germany. In addition to that, I have to say, that at least where I come from, people do not use “kurz vor/nach dreiviertel” very much. And then, what about the numbers between 5 and 10? They didn’t fit in your system so you just omitted them… so how do we say those? And can’t we just say the other things that way, too then?

    • Sandra:

      @Irina Hello Irina,

      I set myself to share my personal knowledge with the blog’s readers. I am not inclined to recite textbook knowledge/rules.
      I know that the “how-to-tell-the-time-in-German-correctly”-thing is a subject to many discussions and I have never claimed that telling the time with using the words “viertel” and “dreiviertel” is understood throughout Germany. I even, over and over again, made clear in both my videos and written posts that this is a kind of vernacular spoken in the Berlin/Brandenburg region. Since telling time with “viertel” and “dreiviertel” is so frequent here and children cut their teeth on these forms I decided to treat this variety not simply as vernacular but intended to offer another highly frequent style that exists in this part of Germany. Further, I have always given these forms as additional information and never detached from Standard German.
      I gave the “kurz vor/nach” options because that is something you will never find in any textbooks because this is so special that no ordinary teacher will deal with this topic in conventional classroom learning/teaching.
      Why do the spaces between 5 and 10 not fit into my system? Of course, it is up to you to decide whether, for example, 4:07 p.m. is either
      “short past four” or “short to quarter past four”. That is the same with all other interspaces. As you can see, things get problematic at some point that is why such a topic will never be discussed in school teaching. Therefore, I am always willing to give my posts a personal touch based on my own observations and experiences.
      Unfortunately, I do not understand your last question: “And can’t we just say the other things that way, too then?” If you would let me know to what you refer to I can answer this question.


      Sandra 🙂

  2. Melissa:

    My father (who is Swiss) and I were just having a bit of a discussion about telling the time in German. I don’t speak German, but just finished a two week intensive course (where we did learn the kurz vor/nach). However, our teacher would also say offhand: ‘Es ist fast neun Uhr.’ for ‘It’s around nine o’clock.’ which my father things is incorrect. Would a German-speaking person understand what we’re saying if we did say that?

    I came across your post while Googling the issue. 🙂