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Telling (Or Guessing) The Time In German

jakezc - Fotolia.com
jakezc – Fotolia.com

Children learn reading the time in kindergarten. But sometimes there are regional variations that hinder even native speakers from understanding each other. In Germany, you can notice such a borderline, running south from Brandenburg to Bavaria. One thing fortunately always remains the same: the official time. When in doubt, always use the official time.

The Official Time – 24-Hour Clock

You find official time in newspapers, on television and radio, on timetables – whenever time is officially mentioned. Official time uses the 24-hour clock. For giving official time, use the following pattern:

number of hours + “Uhr” + number of minutes


1:05 h: ein Uhr fünf

2:15 h: zwei Uhr fünfzehn

3:30 h: drei Uhr dreißig

4:45 h: vier Uhr fünfundvierzig

5:55 h: fünf Uhr fünfundfünfzig

The time between 0:00 and 1:00 is called “null”:


0:25 h: null Uhr fünfundzwanzig

The Unofficial Time – 12-Hour Clock

In everyday life, German native speakers sometimes use official time, but the unofficial time is more common. Unofficial time uses the 12-hour clock. There are two times twelve hours, once for the hours 0:00 to 12:00 and once for the hours 12:00 to 24:00.  The pattern is:

number of minutes (+ “Minuten”) + “vor /nach” + number of hours

During the first twenty to twenty-five minutes of an hour you count back the minutes to the last hour. This is indicated with the preposition “nach”. Five minutes before the half hour you count up to the half hour with the preposition “vor”.


1:05 h: fünf Minuten nach eins (short: fünf nach eins)

1:10 h: zehn Minuten nach eins (short: zehn nach eins)

1:15 h: Viertel nach eins (15 minutes make one quarter of 60 minutes.)

1:20 h: zwanzig Minuten nach eins (short: zwanzig nach eins) (seldom: zehn vor halb zwei (!))

1:25 h: fünf vor halb zwei (!)

For the last thirty minutes of the hour you count up to the hour, using the preposition “vor”. However, it is customary to count the first five or ten minutes back to the half hour.


 1:35 h: fünf nach halb zwei (!)

1:40 h: zwanzig Minuten vor zwei (short: zwanzig vor zwei) or zehn nach halb zwei (!) (seldom)

1:45 h: Viertel vor zwei (45 minutes are three quarters of 60 minutes.)

1:50 h: zehn Minuten vor zwei (short: zehn vor zwei)

1:55 h: fünf Minuten vor zwei (short: fünf vor zwei)

Regional Variants

In the East and the South of  Germany People use another variant of telling the time. Just like a bottle is filled with water, the new hour ist filled up with minutes.


1:15 h: viertel zwei (The hour is one quarter full.)

1:45 h: drei Viertel zwei (The hour is three quarters full.)

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