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What Time Is It? Posted by on Aug 7, 2009 in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

About an hour ago I was struggling to explain to someone how to say what time it is. In Swedish naturally.

You see, again, it’s one of those things that is deceptively easy on the surface and so similar to English that we tend to forget that there are a couple of bits that are different. Very different in fact.

First of all, what started this whole discussion was when my husband asked me what “Hur dags?” meant. He thought it had something to do with how the day was going. (Yes, shame on me, the guy speaks only two words of Swedish and relies on me for the rest).

But no, “hur dags?” simply means – “at what time?” And then the guy got all stressed out that the word “time” –“tid” wasn’t even in this phrase. To placate him, I said there is another expression, which starts with “vilken tid” and means something like “when”.

And then, very surprisingly, the guy announced that he decided to master telling the time. In Swedish naturally. So we sat down and I very patiently started to explain:

To ask what time it is, you say this:

  • Hur mycket är klockan?


  • Vad är klockan?

And here are some possible answers:

  • klockan 9 (kl. 9:00) – 9 o’clock.
  • halv nio – half past eight – 8:30 (yeah, it gets goofy here)
  • tio över nio – ten past nine – 9:10
  • tio i nio – ten till/to nine – 8:50

and here it gets really fun:

  • fem över halv nio – twenty five till/to nine – 8:35, but in Swedish it’s more like “five past half to nine”
  • fem i halv nio – twenty five past eight – 8:25, but again, Swedish it’s literally “five till half to nine”

Fun, isn’t it?
Personally, I hate this way of saying what time it is and normally stick with the military style of 9:10, 8:50, 8:30 and so on. It works just as well and people understand you just fine.

Here are some other handy time-related phrases:

  • Klockan går fem minuter före. – the clock/watch is five minutes fast.
  • Klockan går fem minuter efter. – the clock/watch is five minutes slow.
  • Min klocka går fel. – my watch is wrong (shows wrong time)
  • Klockan slår tolv. – the clock strikes twelve (noon/midnight)

And now that you know how to tell the time in Swedish, you have no more excuses to be late. And that I suspect is the secret reason why my guy will give up on learning these useful phrases in about 3 minutes. 🙂

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  1. Luke (Sydney):

    Just to be sure, I shall be always one hour early.

  2. villaki:

    nice article 🙂
    I personally find the swedish way of telling the time absolutely fascinating 😀

    And yes, it is a bit funny and weird but (as everything in learning foreign languages) its a matter of practice.

    In 8 days, I am moving to Stockholm as an exchage student so I guess I’ll get my practice XD

  3. Michael:

    A good Swede is always a little early or just on time according to my grandfather.

  4. Peter:

    Hej Anna
    Why do Swedes use “Hon” when referring to time?
    Ja, Hon är halv fem (she is 4:30)
    Hon är strax fem (she is just 5)
    Also don’t forget
    Ja, den är prik fem (Yes it is exactly 5)

  5. Ann:

    And — “military” time is the norm here. 21.00 for nine o clock at night. There is no “a.m.” or “p.m.” Appointments and bus/train/tv information is not confusable.

    By the way, Anna, how to ask the time is something that has given me coniption fits since being here. Even after obtaining reasonable fluency. So thanks for the guide.


  6. BM:

    “klocka” is a feminine noun (like “jänta”, “kvinna”, etc), and so in some dialects is referred to using the feminine pronoun. In standard Swedish, of course, feminine and masculine nouns are no longer overtly distinguished.

  7. Kenia:

    Absolutely weird!
    i think some of the time-related expressions are even unnatural, like “Hur dags?”. That one wins first prize! =D
    But then again it’s a matter of practice.
    Great post Anna!

  8. Ölänning:

    kenia – Dags is an old form of dag meaning something “in/on the day” so “Hur dags?” means something like “what time of the day”. It will sound natural when Swedish ahs become a natural language to speak for you

  9. Kenia:

    thanks for your explanation Ölänning! I actually wondered why they wrote it as “dags” with an “s”, but then I thought it was just an expression, if you know what i mean.

  10. James:

    haha 🙂 I’m English with a Swedish girlfriend, so I had to have a little chuckle regarding your guy relying on you to fill in the gaps to his Svenska (sounds very familiar). I promised min flickvän 12 months ago, I would be fully conversant in Svenska within 6 months, needless to say it hasn’t quite worked out like that!
    I’m currently on my 5th visit to Sweden, but due to the fact most Swedish people speak English, I lazily slip back into U.K mode.Furthermore, I must pass comment on how much harder Svenska is than what I was expecting (I think that’s due to the grammar seeming to be the other way round) . Well, I’ve bought Rosetta Stone now so no excuses, wish me luck 🙂

  11. locke:

    Very good “klock” post! I’m glad I discovered this blog:)

  12. Cale:

    How does one say “At 8 30 I ate breakfast?”
    If possible, avoid saying “Klockan halv nio”… can one say “Vid halv nio” or “Då halv nio” or even “Vid åtta trettio” or “Vid åtta och trettio” ….. What about all these options?
    Are any of them correct?

  13. Cale:

    Also “Half past twelve in the afternoon” o_o

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