Advanced Time Telling

Time within Sentences Introduction

In this chapter I will expand upon what we learned in the last chapter about telling time in German to include some more complicated ways of time telling, but then I will show you a bit about how to use these time things in sentences. This includes where to put the time element and some new vocabulary about parts of the day.

As usual there is a video lesson and the text version is below the video.

More Complex Time Expressions

Let’s start with the time telling things I left out of the last chapter. In German, you don’t always have to give the precise minutes and hours of the day. You can split the hours into quarters and halves like you do in English. Unlike in English, however, the German phrase “halb vier” (half four) doesn’t translate as “half past four”, but instead “half until four”. This is a bit disorienting at first, but is quite simple once you understand it. Here are a few examples to help you get acclimated to this idea. 

halb sechs - half past five (literally: half six), 5:30 

halb eins - half past twelve (literally: half one), 12:30 

halb zehn - half past nine (literally: half ten), 9:30 

A strange version of this would include the use of “vor” (before) or “nach” (after) and a number of minutes, usually five (5) or ten (10). This requires you to do a quick math problem in your head if you are an English native speaker. “fünf vor halb sieben” for example would translate literally as “5 before half of seven”. “halb sieben” is 6:30. “Fünf Minuten” (five minutes) before that is “sechs Uhr fünfundzwanzig” (six twenty-five, 6:25), so “fünf vor halb sieben” is actually 6:25. Here are a few more examples of this complicated mess. 

fünf vor halb neun - five before half nine, 8:25

fünf nach halb vier - five after half four, 3:35 

zehn vor halb elf - ten before half eleven, 10:20 

Just like in English you can use quarter hours to say it is 15 minutes before or after the hour. Simply use “vor” (before) or “nach” (after) like we did in all of the other examples with the word “Viertel”, which is German for quarter. 

Viertel vor drei - quarter before three, 2:45 

Viertel nach acht - quarter after eight, 8:15 

Viertel vor zehn - quarter before ten, 9:45 

Viertel nach fünf - quarter after five, 5:15 

There are also two weird ways to use the word “Viertel” (quarter). If you leave out the words “vor” (before) or “nach” (after), you have a similar math question to that, which we did with “halb” (half). In these examples, the phrase becomes a quarter of the way towards a particular hour. For example: 

Viertel elf - one quarter of 11, 10:15 

Viertel neun - one quarter of nine, 8:15 

You can also say “drei Viertel”, which is three quarters of the way towards the next hour. This is by far the most confusing time expression my students encounter. Here are a few examples of it. 

drei Viertel vier - three quarters of four, 3:45 

drei Viertel sieben - three quarters of seven, 6:45 

Complete and Continue