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Telling the time in German: Around the clock in 5-minute Steps Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Language

The constant reader of this blog might already know that I set myself to make a thoroughly series on Telling the Time in German. So far, I have explained how to cite full hours and the quarters of an hour (using mechanical clocks), and I explained why we tend to tell the time differently – depending on which kind of clock we use: mechanical ones or digital ones.

This time I would like to continue my series with how to tell the time in 5-minute steps, so to speak. In other words, when you are using a mechanical clock to read the time the major numbers on the clock-face (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) do not only indicate the number of the hour of the day (indicated by the little hand) but also the minutes (indicated by the big hand). The numbers between 1 and 12 are each “five minutes apart”, that is, it takes fives minutes that the big hand gets from one number to the next one, for example, form number 2 to 3 and 4 to 5.

In the video below you can listen to how Germans cite these times (naturally spoken language).



When you tell the time without using the words “Minuten” (minutes) and “Uhr” (o’clock) you can only use the 12-hour system, that is, only the numbers between 1 and 12.

eins – one
zwei – two
drei – three
vier – four
fünf – five
sechs – six
sieben – seven
acht – eight
neun – nine
zehn – ten
elf – eleven
zwölf – twelve

For the minutes, you need to know the following words:

fünf – five
zehn – ten
viertel – quarter
zwanzig – twenty
fünf vor halb – five to half
halb – half
fünf nach halb – five past half
dreiviertel – three-quarters

All you have to do is to insert the appropriate number in the blanks (…) below.

Es ist fünf nach/vor … (sieben) – It is five past/to … (seven)

Es ist zehn nach/vor … (acht) – It is ten past/to … (eight)

Es ist viertel … (drei) – It is quarter … (three) (2:15 a.m. or 14:15 p.m.)

Es ist viertel nach/vor … (elf) – It is quarter past/to … (eleven)

Es ist zwanzig nach/vor … (sechs) – It is twenty past/to … (six)

Es ist fünf vor halb … (zehn) – It is five to half (to) … (ten)

Es ist fünf nach … (zehn) – It is five past half (to) … (ten)

Es ist halb … (neun) – It is half (to) … (nine)

Es ist dreiviertel … (eins) – It is three-quarters (one) … (0:45 a.m. or 12:45 p.m.)

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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. Eddie Ortega:

    In the example above, wouldn´t you say “Es ist viertel nach zwei” for 2:15 am or 14:15?

    • Sandra:

      @Eddie Ortega Hello Eddi,

      yes, we say that. It’s Standard German.