How to Express Time in Chinese
In the previous lesson, you have learned about the number in Chinese. Today, let’s learn how to tell the time in Chinese!
Important Time-Related Term
Here are some important time-related terms you need to be familiar beforehand.
Telling the Time
The complete time format in Chinese is:
number + 點 + number + 分 + number + 秒
number + 点 + number + 分 + number + 秒
number + diǎn + number + fēn + number + miǎo
number + o’clock + number + minutes + number + seconds
The following are the guidelines for the pronunciation. Notice the pattern – they are easy to remember!
Of course, you can omit the part you do not need in telling the time. Like in normal asking-telling time conversation, we will only use the o’clock and minutes. On the other hand, under some circumstances that require the precise time, you do have to include the seconds. Examples:
Wǔ diǎn èrshí (fēn).
Bā diǎn sì shí wǔ (fēn).
Sān diǎn qī fēn shí miǎo.
Jiǔ diǎn sānshíliù fēn wǔshíjiǔ miǎo.
Have you noticed that we use 兩 [两] (liǎng) instead of 二 (èr) to express time?
You can leave out the word for the minute: 分 (fēn) when speaking.
Sometimes, you might hear the word 鐘 [种] (zhōng) behind the o’clock, minutes, or seconds. It is completely normal though!
Quarter and Half
In fact, Chinese tend to use digital time format (e.g. 08:55 is pronounced as eight fifty-five instead of five to nine). There is a word for quarter: 刻 (kè), but it can be only use for ‘quarter past’. The term ‘quarter to’ as in English is not available here. Don’t worry, we still use the half: 半 (bàn) to indicate 30 minutes! Examples:
Qī diǎn yī kè.
A quarter past seven (07:15).
Half past one (01:30).
差 (chà) is similar to English less/to, which is used to indicate ‘several minutes’ to reach the next hour. The opposite of less, ‘past’ is not available in Chinese time dictionary too. Thus:
Chà wǔ fēn shí diǎn.
Five to ten (09:55).
Chà yī fēn liù diǎn.
One to six (05:59).
整 (zhěng) is used to express ‘the exact time’ in Chinese. Therefore:
Sì diǎn zhěng.
Four o’clock sharp (exactly 4:00).
No a.m. and p.m. in Chinese Time!
You read it correctly. There is no specific term for indicating a.m. and p.m. in Chinese. In order to distinguish which time of the day, we use time-frame of the day: 早上 (zǎo shang), 中午 (zhōng wǔ), 下午 (xià wǔ), 晚上 (wǎn shàng), 半夜 (bàn yè), 凌晨 (líng chén). Thus:
Zǎo shang bā diǎn.
Zhōng wǔ shí’èr diǎn.
Xià wǔ liǎng diǎn.
Wǎn shàng liù diǎn.
Bàn yè shí’èr diǎn.
Líng chén yīdiǎn.
Asking the Time
There are countless ways to ask time in Chinese. The most common one is:
What time is it now?
When you are talking to someone you are close to, you can use:
What time is it?
Next time when someone asks you the time in Chinese, try to answer the time in Chinese as well! Let’s practice now!
Zuó tiān nǐ jǐ diǎn huí jiā?
What time did you go home yesterday?
Míng tiān wǒmen jǐ diǎn chū fā?
What time will we leave tomorrow?
Nǐ měi tiān jǐ diǎn shuì jiào?
What time do you go to sleep every day?
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