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How to Tell Time in Chinese Lesson 1: Clock Time 

 January 13, 2020

By  Vicky Yi

In our everyday life, it is very important to know how to tell the time. But do you know how to tell the time in Chinese? 

In a previous lesson, we have already learned numbers in Chinese. Today, we only need to learn a few new words and then we can fully express the time in Chinese. 

The great news is, once you have mastered numbers 0 to 9, you are well on your way to telling the date and time in Chinese. So let us start right away!

Time Vocabulary in Chinese – Seconds

First, let’s have a look at the dial and how to say seconds, minutes and hours in Chinese.

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English meaning

Examples

miǎo

second(s)

60秒

(60 seconds)

As simple as that, in Chinese, there is only one word to indicate “seconds”, that is “秒(miǎo)

For example, if you need to express seconds in Chinese, just like English, you only need to add “秒” after the number .

Number + 秒

Time Vocabulary - Minute

Chinese

Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English meaning

Examples

分钟

fēn zhōng

minute(s)

6分钟

26minutes

fēn

minute(s)

3点06分(3:06)

Both “分钟” and “分” in the table above can represent minutes, and “分” is short for “分钟”. But in most cases, we generally use “分钟” to describe how long something takes, and use “分” to describe the specific clock time. Same as seconds, just add “分” or “ 分钟” after the number.

Number + 分(分钟)

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English Meaning

Examples

(小)时

(xiǎo) shí

hour(s)

1小时10分钟

(an hour and 10 minutes)

钟头

zhōng tóu

hour(s)

1个钟头10分钟

(an hour and 10 minutes)

diǎn

o’clock

1点10分

(1:10)

Both “小时” “钟头” and “点” in the table above can represent hours. But in most cases, we generally use “小时” and “钟头” to describe how long something takes, “钟头” also needs to add the measure word “个” when using it. And use “点” to describe the specific clock time. Same as seconds and minutes, just add these words after the number.

Number  + 点/时

In combination, we often use “number点 + number 分” to tell the clock time. And the word “分” sometimes could be omitted, just use “number 点+ number”

For example, “4点20分” is equivalent to “4点20”,means 4 o’clock and 20 minutes.

Time Vocabulary - Quarter

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English Meaning

Examples

(一)刻

(yí ) kè

15 minutes or a quarter

两点一刻

(2:15)

When talking about clock time, “刻” means a quarter of an hour. (Besides a quarter, as you study further, you will learn other meanings of the word “刻”.) And normally, “one quarter” is the most common one to see.

Another thing should pay attention to is how you should change the tone of “一”, rising first tone to second tone.

Time Vocabulary – Half past

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English Meaning

Examples

bàn

half

12点半

(12:30)

This one is very simple, its meaning just as same as “half past” in English. And you should put it right after “点”. You can memorize “点半” together for easy recall.

Time Vocabulary – Differ

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

English Meaning

Examples

chà

differ, shorten

差3分(钟)6点

(5:57);

差一刻3点

(2:45)

When the minutes have passed half hour, which means the minute hand is approaching the time circle running for the next hour, we can use “差” to describe the time difference with the next hour.“差 + … 分(钟)….点” or “差 + 一刻…点”.

How to Ask Time in Chinese

After learning words above, you may have a question in mind, how do you ask others about time in Chinese? 

Well, you need to learn another word ,“几 (jǐ) ”. It’s a pronoun used to ask quantity and time. “几点(jǐ diǎn)” is the simplest way to ask time; you can add “现在(xiàn zài)” and some modal particle like “了” at the end of the sentence.

现在    几点     了?
Now   what time  (modal particle)?

A Few Extras

Do you still remember in the Chinese number lesson we have mentioned that there are two ways to say “two” in Chinese,二 (èr)and 两( liǎng) , and different “two” need to be used when meeting with different time units? 

This may sound confusing, but to put it simply, for 2 o’clock we have to say “两点” instead of “二点”.But for 2 minutes, “两分” and “二分” are both fine to use.

Mini – test

I believe that you have mastered already today's topic. Can you try to say the following time in Chinese?

11:00

Click to reveal the correct answer

1:05

Click to reveal the correct answer

3:30

Click to reveal the correct answer

6:45

Click to reveal the correct answer

9:50

Click to reveal the correct answer

Keep Practicing…

Well, since the clock never stops, that gives you countless chances to practice telling time in Chinese. The more you speak, the more opportunity you’ll get to practice them and the more perfect your Chinese will be! If you know any native Chinese-speakers, try and practice what you’ve learned with them.

Good luck and have fun!

Vicky Yi


Vicky Yi is a language enthusiast. She has some experience in teaching Chinese to foreigners. Previously a journalist in one of the most influential press media in China, she now devotes herself into experiencing various cultures and the beautiful world.

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