Talking about date and time in German
Twice a year the clock is changed in Germany - on every fourth Sunday in March (summer time) and October (winter time). This year it is on October 30. The change affects our entire daily routine: When we get up, what time the train leaves, when we start work, but also when our favorite TV show is on.
Learn how to talk about the time and date correctly in Germany in this blog post.
📅 Specify a date
The Gregorian calendar applies almost everywhere in the world. In Germany, too, a year has twelve months with a total of 365 days. However, the designation of exact days varies from country to country: Not only the names of the months are different in different languages, but also the order and punctuation.
💡 In the case of dates, the following applies to German sentence structure: from lower case to upper case, and the day of the week first.
Example: Monday, June 20, 2022.
This may sound unusual at first, if you are used to the English spelling: Monday, June 20th, 2022 or somewhat outdated: Monday, the 20th of June, 2022.
While in English it is clearly the 20th day of the month, in German it looks as if we have 20 times June here. This is because over time the date has been shortened and certain parts have simply been dropped. An important difference to English is that in German there is no comma before the year.
Other ways to write the date are:
Monday, June 20, 2022 or also June 20, 2022. Instead of writing out the month, you can also abbreviate it with the month number: 20.06.2022. In this case, the number is always given with two digits, from January to September you therefore add a leading zero. You also write the date without spaces and put a dot after the month.
For all notations, both the day of the week and the year are optional. If it is clear which year is meant, you can simply omit it.
👉 Note: If there is an article "the" in the date, it is always conjugated, depending on the sentence structure. Example: "It happened on Monday, June 20, 2022.
If we talk about events around the year 1, it is recommended to specify if they are still "after Christ" or if we talk about a date that is "before Christ".
"Before Christ" and "after Christ" are usually abbreviated as "B.C." and "A.D." respectively. Synonyms for this are "before/after Christ's birth" ("Christi" is the Latin genitive of "Christ") or the neutral phrase, "before/after (the beginning of) our era. To refer to the birth of Christ at the beginning of the calendar is not unusual even among non-religious people.
⏰ Talking about the time
It is quite normal to speak of "five o'clock" and actually mean "5 p.m.". Therefore, when we speak, we often use additions such as "in the morning," "in the afternoon," or "in the evening" to clarify the time. However, this differs from the written form: Here, Germans use the 24-hour representation. For example, only "5 p.m." is used to indicate the time in the afternoon or evening. With "5 o'clock" we always mean in written form "5 o'clock early in the morning".
The complete time with minutes is written, for example, as follows: 12:34 a.m. Before the colon are the hours, after that the minutes. After the space, there is "clock". But be careful: It will be read "twelve thirty-four", even if the word "clock" is at the very end!
Up to ten minutes before or after a whole hour you can indicate as follows: ten minutes before eight or ten minutes after eight. The word "minutes" can also be omitted: ten minutes before eight or ten minutes after eight. The indication "clock" is unusual in this case. If you use "before" or "after" in the time specification, then you always take the 12-hour representation: There is no "five after twenty", only "five after one" to "five after twelve".
👉 Note: In Germany, more detailed information than five or ten minutes is usually given when it is important, and then only "after" a certain hour. Exact times "before" the whole hour are given as normal time.
🕞 The quarter hours
An hour is divided into quarters.
For example, we say "quarter past eight," which corresponds to 8:15 or 8:15. "Quarter to eight" represents 7:45 or 7:45. The middle of that is "half past seven," which is 7:30 or 7:30. So remember: if it's 7 o'clock and then half an hour passes, halfway it's 8 o'clock!
Depending on the region, for example in Eastern and Southern Germany, another variant is common, how to indicate the quarter of an hour. Quarter to five (4:45 or 4:45) there means "It's three quarters of five. Here, three quarters of the time between four and five o'clock has simply passed.
💡 This is exactly how "quarter to five" works: a quarter of the time between four and five o'clock has passed, so it is 4:15 (or 4:15). This regionally used variant sometimes causes misunderstandings even among native speakers.
Whether it's "quarter past", "quarter to", or "half past", it's generally accepted that the actual time can be off by a few minutes. If you want to say that it is exactly 8:15, you can use the following phrase: "It is exactly a quarter past eight.
Assigning a time to events
Assigning a time to events
If a time belongs to a certain event, then it happens "at" that time. For example, "The train leaves at 6:20 p.m.
You can give an approximate time with the word "about": "The train arrives at about half past seven.
There are many ways to express date and time in the German language. If you master several variations, you can speak more naturally and also understand spoken German better.
If you manage to understand "Viertel vor neun" (quarter to nine), "halb vier" (half past three) and "zehn vor elf" (ten to eleven) immediately, you should no longer have any major problems with telling the time. 😉