Russian Language Blog

How to Tell Time in Russian Posted by on Nov 29, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners

Image source: wstryder via Flickr

I always thought one of the most useless sections in my old English-Russian разговорник (phrase book) was the one that taught how to tell time. After all, years ago most of us wore часы (watches). But now that we rely on cell phones to tell the time, the topic once again becomes useful.

Unlike наручные часы (wrist watch), a typical мобильник (mobile phone) bought in the US won’t work in Russia. Even if you don’t plan on travelling any further east than Brighton Beach, you might need to ask for the time if your phone battery dies.

So, let’s practice asking for and telling the time in Russian, starting with the phrase который час? (what time is it?; lit. what hour is it?). This is the very minimum you need to get by.

Unfortunately, the barest minimum doesn’t sound very polite. It’s how we ask friends and family

Мама, который час? – Mom, what time is it?

With strangers, you might want to up the level of вежливость (politeness) and build up on the basics:

Скажите, пожалуйста, который час? – Please tell me what time is it?

Не подскажите, который час? – Could you tell me the time?

Here comes the difficult part, understanding the response. But never fear! You already know Russian numbers от одного до шестидесяти (from one to sixty), don’t you? You will need to say two numbers, the first one – for the hours and the second one – for the minutes.

For example, as I’m writing this, my digital clock shows 9:37 or девять часов тридцать семь минут (nine hours thirty-seven minutes) or simply девять тридцать семь (nine thirty-seven). Quickly, look at the digital clock in the corner of your computer screen and try telling the time in Russian.

By the way, the words час (hour) and минута (minute) are totally optional here (but not always, as you’ll see). If you are not comfortable declining them in singular and plural, it’s ok to skip them for now.

Aha, you might say, but what about the whole AM and PM thing? You have two choices here.

You can either add утра (in the morning), дня (in the afternoon), вечера (in the evening) and ночи (at night) where you’d usually add AM/PM or you can switch to the twenty-four hour format.

As it happens, I’m writing this at девять сорок пять вечера (nine forty-five in the evening, 9:45 PM) or at двадцать один сорок пять (twenty-one forty-five, 21:45). Russians are a lot more comfortable with the 24-hour time-keeping than Americans in part because телепрограмма (TV program) is published in this format.

Some more examples:

Я работала до часа ночи – I worked until 1 am
Поезд прибывает в шестнадцать двадцать два – Train arrives at 4:22 pm
Моя любимая радио программа начинается в девять тридцать утра – My favorite radio show begins at 9:30 am

Of course, if a person who answers your который час question does not have a watch with a digital readout or prefers to round up or down, then you will hear a different response. To understand, you will need to know these words:

четверть – here: quarter after
без четверти – here: quarter to
половина – here: half an hour to
пол- – here: half an hour to
минут – genitive case of the word минуты (minutes)
без – without
ровно – exactly
полдень – noon
полночь – midnight
почти – almost (for those who like rounding up and down)

Let’s practice:

Pretend it’s два часа дня (2 pm) now, then

2:05 is пять минут третьего
2:10 is десять минут третьего
2:15 is пятнадцать минут третьего or четверть третьего
2:20 is двадцать минут третьего
2:25 is двадцать пять минут третьего
2:30 is пол-третьего or половина третьего

2:35 is без двадцати пяти три
2:40 is без двадцати три
2:45 is без пятнадцати три or без четверти три
2:50 is без десяти три
2:55 is без пяти три
3:00 is три час три or ровно три or три ноль ноль

A couple of things to note here:

Anything from :01 to :30 – say the number of minutes past the hour + the word минут, genitive of минуты (minutes) + genitive of the ordinal number for the NEXT hour. The exception is :30 in which case we use the words пол- or половина

Anything from :31 to :59 – start with без + genitive of the cardinal number for minutes left to the next hour + nominative of the cardinal number for the next hour. No need to use the word минуты (minutes) for the second half of an hour (although some people do).

The best way to figure it out is through lots of practice.

Part 1:  Listen to the Soviet-era radio announcement on this page. It tells time in Moscow and other cities across the Soviet Union.

Part 2: How would you say this in Russian?

a) 10:20 pm
b) 7:15 am
c) 7:45 am
d) 12:30 pm
e) 5:00 pm
f) 1:18 pm

Part 3: Here’s are some sentences. Try to figure out what time(s) are mentioned in each one:

a) Маша пришла домой в полночь.
b) Когда в Нью-Йорке восемь утра, в Москве уже четыря часа дня.
c) Я сегодня начала работать в четверть девятого.
d) Новости начинаются в десять вечера, а заканчиваются в десять двадцать.
e) Документальный фильм начнётся в двадцать двадцать пять.


Part 2:

a) десять двадцать утра or десять двадцать or двадцать минут одиннадцатого
b) семь пятнадцать утра or семь пятнадцать or пятнадцать минут восьмого or четверть восьмого
с) семь сорок пять утра or семь сорок пять or без пятнадцати семь or без четверти семь
d) двенадцать тридцать дня or двенадцать тридцать or пол-первого or половина первого
е) пять вечера or семнадцать ноль ноль or ровно пять or пять часов
f) час восемнадцать дня or тринадцать восемнадцать or почти двадцать минут второго

Part 3 (sentences)

a) midnight
b) 8am and 4pm
c) 8:15 (am or pm, it’s unclear)
d) 10pm and 10:20 pm
e) 8:25pm


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  1. Peter Groves:

    In Moscow on the last weekend of last month, I ran into a time crisis in which this posting might have been useful: I hope readers might find my experience helpful. My Blackberry, on which I was relying to wake me in the morning in time for a run and breakfast before our crazy driver arrived to convey me and a colleague to where we had to spend the day lecturing, decided it was the right moment to switch to daylight saving time. The digital clock on the TV in my room, and the Russian news channel which I tuned in to to check, told me otherwise. The hotel receptionist confirmed that my watch was still right – the clocks evidently had not gone back, and (here’s the useful tip, if you didn’t know it) in Russia they never do, not since last year. Nor in Belarus. See Oh, and they don’t go forward in spring either, but that almost goes without saying.
    I can blame my Blackberry for causing me to miss my run. At least it works well as a scapegoat, although several inches of snow had appeared overnight anyway.
    I have to admit that the hotel receptionist spoke excellent English, but if I have to ask her the time on my next visit I will make sure I can do so in Russian.

    • yelena:

      @Peter Groves Hi Peter! First, thank you for reading and commenting. It’s been my experience that Russians who have to, by virtue of their work, deal with foreigners, generally have very good English. The drawback is that it limits one’s opportunity to practice Russian. Thank you for posting the information about switching to Daylight Savings Time (or rather no longer having to switch to it in Russia). Finally, I got to tell you, I loved your post “Dawn on the Moscow River”! and I highly recommend everyone to read it – (unfortunately I couldn’t get a link directly to the post, but it’s the one from October 27th).

  2. Sima:

    Great entry! Wanted to add (as it was surprising to me), that at least in Moscow, one rarely seems to hear который час? anymore. One of my friends says that it sounds lovely and quaint and a bit antiquated even to ask this way. Almost always I encounter: Сколько времени? or Сколько щас времени? Which leads to funny moments when my Russian friends ask me in English, “How much time?”

    • yelena:

      @Sima Ah, Sima, there is no hiding my провинциальный говор (provincial ways of speaking) 🙂 Yes, I hear сколько времени and сколько время and such a lot. And they are perfectly acceptable. The one thing I don’t like about them is that they don’t sound very polite. My Mom always stressed the importance of saying пожалуйста (please), the use of the formal Вы, and the whole “не + verb+ -ли + Вы” as in не подскажите-ли Вы, не знаете-ли Вы, etc. Some of my friends think I’m too polite 🙂

  3. Rob:

    Part 1: Listen to the Soviet-era radio announcement on this page. It tells time in Moscow and other cities across the Soviet Union.

    In 1990s Moscow (and, I assume, in other cities), there was also a local phone number you could call for a time recording. You’d hear chimes ringing the first several notes of the song “Подмосковные вечера” — hmmm, counting in my head — no, make that the first ten notes of the song, followed by a recorded voice that said (at intervals): “Точное московское время — двадцать часов, сорок шесть минут, и тридцать секунд.”

  4. Rob:

    Almost always I encounter: Сколько времени? or Сколько щас времени?

    Yep — in formal contexts, it’s который час? and в котором часу? (“at what time?”), but in colloquial speech you’ll hear, respectively, Сколько (сейчас) времени? (“What time is it now?”) and Во сколько времени… […ты приедешь?] (“At what time… […will you arrive]?”)

    Also, note the following expressions for “From what time until what time [is the restaurant open, etc.]?”:

    A. С которого часа до которого часа?
    B. Со скольких до скольких?
    C. Со скольки до скольки?
    D. Со сколько до сколько?
    E. Со сколька до сколька?

    Version A is the “proper textbook phrasing”, but all four of the other versions will be heard from native speakers (at least, I’ve heard B and C in speech, but D and E get a lot of Google hits). My impression is that educated Russians tend to prefer Version B as the “least-wrong” form in colloquial speech, but I would wait to see what Yelena’s opinion is.

    P.S. I also remember “Время не подскажете?” as being quite a commonly encountered equivalent to “Do you by chance know the time?”, if you’re asking a stranger.

    • yelena:

      @Rob I’d say that I hardly ever use A, but instead use C as in до скольки открыт ваш магазин? (until what time is your store open?) Thank you for bringing up the phrase Время не подскажете? I completely forgot about it!

  5. Rob:

    Also, the picture at the top reminded me that I own a very similar “Командировские” наручные часы. Unfortunately, after a few years I found out why batteries and quartz-crystals have completely replaced metal springs in low-priced watches…. eventually the секундная стрелочка (second hand) of my “Komandirovskiye” would make a complete revolution in just over 50 seconds!

    Still, it did keep good time for a few years when it was new, and I quite enjoyed the daily routine of winding it. (It was the first purely mechanical, non-quartz watch I’d ever owned.)

    • yelena:

      @Rob Rob, I always wanted to have the real командирские часы (commander’s watch). I think all kids back then did 🙂 My first watch was a wind-up and it was a pain. I was maybe 10-11 years old and had better things to do than winding them every morning.