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Telling time in German: the quarters of an hour Posted by on Aug 15, 2012 in Culture, Current Events, Language

Telling the quarters of an hour in German is basically similar to English. There are the phrases “viertel vor” (quarter to) and “viertel nach” (quarter past), which need to be inserted between “Es is …” and a number between 1 and 12. The only difference between German and English exists when it come to tell the half of an hour. Whereas you use the phrase “half past” or “half to” in English, you only use the word “halb” (half) in German an add the number of the next full hour.

Telling the quarters of an hour in German becomes more complicated when you are faced with a fairly popular colloquial style of it, which is, at least, understood in the Berlin/Brandenburg area, namely using the words “viertel” (quarter), “halb” (half), and “dreiviertel” (three-quarters) and then add the number of the next full hour to cite a particular time.

Although there are many Germans who hold the opinion that the quarter/half/three-quarters way of telling the time is ‘bad’ German, I nevertheless would like to teach you this (in the video below) because that is actually the style, which people simply use in their everyday language.



Note: You cannot use the 24-hour-system when telling the quarters of an hour, no matter which style you prefer. That is, the only numbers that work are those between 1 and 12.

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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