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How to Tell Time in Chinese Part 2: Time Periods 

 January 13, 2020

By  Vicky Yi

Hi there, nice to meet you again! In our previous lesson, we have learned how to tell clock time in Chinese. Next, let's go further to learn more about time periods in a day and how to express the date, month, and year in Chinese.

Chinese Time Vocabulary - From Day to Night

In ancient China, people did not have 24-hour clocks like we do, so they used some time period to represent time. Just a quick heads up--these words are a lot! 

But in this article, let’s learn some common ones that are good enough for you in daily life.

Representative time period

Representative time period

Representative time period

早上

zǎo shang

around 5 a.m. to 8 or 9 a.m., it’s about dawn until the beginning of morning work hours.

上午

shàng wǔ

around 8 or 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

中午

zhōng wǔ

around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

下午

xià wǔ

around 1p.m. to 6 p.m., it’s about the time before dark, basically equivalent to “afternoon” in English.

白天

bái tiān

around 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., basically equivalent to “daytime” in English. The word literally means the sky is bright.

晚上

wǎn shàng

around 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., the night time.

半夜

bàn yè

around 12 a.m. like “midnight” in English.

凌晨

líng chén

around 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., the time before dawn.

The ancient Chinese people started a day from 23 p.m. instead of 12 a.m., and divided a day into 12 Shichen(时辰). Every Shichen has a specific name. But, this ancient time system has been abandoned by most modern Chinese, except one, 午(wǔ). “午” in 12 Shichen refers to the time between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

I think the word “午” has continued to be used by modern Chinese people, probably because the lunch break time is very important for everyone. And, literally, “上午” means “the time before 午”.

“中午” means “right at the 午”,and “下午” means “the time after 午”.

Chinese Time Vocabulary – Specific Date

The words below are just the same as vocabulary “year” “month” and “date” in English. It should be noted that the “日” and “号” can both be used to describe the date.

“日” is more commonly used for written language, and “号” is more commonly used for spoken language.

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

nián

year(s)

yue

month(s)

date(s)

hào

date(s)

Unlike English, fortunately, you don't need to remember particular words for each month, just add the number before the character “月”. Both Chinese characters or Arabic numbers are okay to use.

For example, “3月” or “三月”. And this also works for years and dates, like“2006年” or “二零零六年”, “3月23日” or “三月二十三日”.

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

一月/1月

yī yuè

January

二月/2月

èr yuè

February

三月/3月

sān yuè

March

四月/4月

sì yuè

April

五月/5月

wǔ yuè

May

六月/6月

liù yuè

June

七月/7月

qī yuè

July

八月/8月

bā yuè

August

九月/9月

jiǔ yuè

September

十月/10月

shí yuè

October

十一月/11月

shí yī yuè

November

十二月/12月

shí èr yuè

December

  • When we want to describe a specific day in Chinese, we follow an order of “the year, the month, and the day” (Sometimes the year is omitted).For example, 2006年3月23日, it means “March 23th, 2006”.
  • When we read the year, it is usually from left to right and one by one. “2006年” is read as “èr líng líng liù nián”.
  • Another point to note is that the ancient Chinese adopted the Chinese lunar calendar and this calendar is still in use.

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

农历/阴历

nóng lì / yīn lì

lunar calendar

公历/阳历

gong lì / yang lì

Gregorian calendar

Traditional Chinese festivals, like the Spring Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, are based on the lunar calendar.

When you ask your Chinese friends’ birthday, maybe some of them will tell you a lunar date; you’d better ask if it is a lunar or a Gregorian one, to avoid giving them gifts on a wrong date.

Chinese Time Vocabulary – Weeks

In Chinese, there are three words that can represent week, “星期” “周” or “礼拜”.

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

星期

xīng qī

week(s)

zhōu

week(s)

礼拜

lǐ bài

week(s)

From Monday to Saturday, like months in Chinese, you don’t need to memorize specific words to indicate each day. You just need to put a number before the words that represent “week” in Chinese, and this number can only be used in Chinese one.

Sunday is a little bit different, we say “星期日” or “星期天”. Please see the table below.

Chinese Character

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

星期一/周一/礼拜一

xīng qī yī /zhōu yī /lǐ bài yī

Monday

星期二/周二/礼拜二

xīng qī èr /zhōu èr / lǐ bài èr

Tuesday

星期三/周三/礼拜三

xīng qī sān/ zhōu sān / lǐ bài sān

Wednesday

星期四/周四/礼拜四

xīng qī sì /zhōu sì / lǐ bài sì

Thursday

星期五/周五/礼拜五

xīng qī wǔ/ zhōu wǔ / lǐ bài wǔ

Friday

星期六/周六/礼拜六

xīng qī liù /zhōu liù /lǐ bài liù

Saturday

星期日/周日/礼拜日

xīng qī rì /zhōu rì /lǐ bài rì

Sunday

星期天/周天/礼拜天

xīng qī tiān /zhōu tiān/ lǐ bài tiān

Sunday

Chinese Time Vocabulary – Other Expressions You Should Know

There are also some important expressions that will be used when talking about time. Here are some lists for your reference.

Chinese Vocabulary for Dates

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

number +天前

……tiān qián

…… days ago

大前天

dà qián tiān

2 days before yesterday

前天

qián tiān

the day before yesterday

昨天

zuó tiān

yesterday

今天

jīn tiān

today

明天

míng tiān

tomorrow

后天

hòu tiān

the day after tomorrow

大后天

dà hòu tiān

two days after tomorrow

number +天后

……tiān hòu

…… days later

Chinese Vocabulary for Weeks

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

number + (个) 星期/周/礼拜 + 前

……(gè) xīng qī / zhōu /lǐ bài qián

…… weeks ago

上上(个)+ 星期/周/礼拜

shàng shàng (gè) xīng qī /zhōu /lǐ bài

two weeks ago

上(个)+ 星期/周/礼拜

shàng (gè) xīng qī

/zhōu/ lǐ bài

a week ago

这(个) + 星期/周/礼拜

zhè (ge) xīng qī / zhōu / lǐ bài

this week

本 + 星期/周

běn xīng qī / zhōu

this week

下(个)+ 星期/周/礼拜

xià (gè) xīng qī / zhōu /lǐ bài

next week

下下(个)星期/周/礼拜

xià xià (gè) xīng qī / zhōu / lǐ bài

two weeks later

number +(个)星期/礼拜/周 + 后

…… (gè) xīng qī /zhōu /lǐ bài hòu

……weeks later

工作日

gong zuò rì

work days

周末

zhōu mò

weekends

Chinese Vocabulary for Months

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

number + 个月前

……gè yuè qián

…… months ago

上上个月

shàng shàng gè yuè

two months ago

上个月

shàng gè yuè

a month ago

这个月

zhè ge yuè

this month

本月

běn yuè

this month

下个月

xià gè yuè

next month

下下个月

xià xià gè yuè

two months later

number +个月后

……gè yuè hòu

…… months later

月初

yuè chū

the first few days of a month

月末/月底

yuè mò /yuè dǐ

the last few days of a month

上旬

shàng xún

1st to 10th of a month

中旬

zhōng xún

11th to 20th of a month

下旬

xià xún

days after 20th of a month

Chinese Vocabulary for Years

Chinese Characters

Chinese Pinyin

Meanings

number + 年前

nián qián

…… years ago

大前年

dà qián nián

two years before last year

前年

qián nián

a year before last year

去年

qù nián

last year

今年

jīn nián

this year

明年

míng nián

next year

后年

hòu nián

the year after next year

大后年

dà hòu nián

two years after next year

number + 年后

nián hòu

…… years later

年初

niánchū

the first few days of a year

年末/年底/年终

nián mò / nián dǐ / nián zhōng

the last few days of a year

上半年/ 前半年

shàng bàn nián / qián bàn nián

first half of a year

下半年/ 后半年

xià bàn nián / hòu bàn nián

second half of a year

How to ask date in Chinese?

After learning words above, you may have a question in mind: how to ask the date in Chinese? Here are some common sentence patterns for you to ask.

Chinese Characters

……是几月几号

Chinese Pinyin

…… shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào?

Meanings

What is the date for something (some day)?

Examples

jīn tiān shì      yuè       hào?

今天            ?

today is which  month which  date

what is the date today?

Chinese Characters

……是什么时候?

Chinese Pinyin

……shì shén me shí hòu

Meanings

When is something (some day)?

Examples

huì yì shì shén me shí hòu?

会议  什么 时候?

meeting is what time

When is the meeting?

Chinese Characters

……是哪天/哪个周/哪个月/哪年……?

Chinese Pinyin

……shì nǎ tiān /nà gè zhōu /nǎ ge yuè /nǎ nián……?

Meanings

Which date / week/ month / year will (was) something(somebody) do (did)?

Examples

hánjià       shì   nǎ  tiān  kāishǐ

寒假             开始?

winter holiday is which date start

Which date will the winter holiday start?
or Which date did the winter holiday start?
(Chinese has no tense and needs to be understood according to the context.)

Chinese Characters

……是星期/周/礼拜几?

Chinese Pinyin

……shì xīngqí jǐ ?

Meanings

Which day of the week……?/What day is ……?

Examples

liù yuè yī rì shì lǐbài 

6  月 1日 礼拜

June 1st is week which

What day is June 1st?

Exercise

Try to read and understand the following sentences.

Chinese Pinyin

nǐ de sheng rì shì shén me shí hòu

Chinese Characters

你的生日是什么时候?

Meaning

When is your birthday?

Chinese Pinyin

wǒ de sheng rì shì qī yuè liù rì

Chinese Characters

我的生日是7月6日

Meaning

My birthday is July 6th.

Chinese Pinyin

nǐ jǐ hào qù zhōng guó

Chinese Characters

你几号去中国?

Meaning

Which date will you go to China?

Chinese Pinyin

zhè ge yuè shí sān hào

Chinese Characters

这个月13号。

Meaning

The 13th of this month.

Chinese Pinyin

wǒ shàng zhōu wǔ qù zhōng guó chū chāi le

Chinese Characters

我上周五去中国出差了。

Meaning

I went China for a business trip on last Friday.

Chinese Pinyin

nián dù xiāo shòu mù biāo yù jì běn yuè zhōng xún wán chéng

Chinese Characters

年度销售目标预计本月中旬完成

Meaning

The annual sales target is expected to be completed in the middle of this month.

Chinese Pinyin

nóng lì bā yuè shí wǔ rì shì zhōng qiū jié

Chinese Characters

农历八月十五日是中秋节

Meaning

The 15th August of Lunar calendar is the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Chinese Pinyin

wǒ míng tiān zǎo shang shí diǎn de huǒ chē qù shàng hǎi

Chinese Characters

我明天早上10点的火车去上海

Meaning

I'll take the 10 o'clock train to Shanghai tomorrow morning

Chinese Pinyin

wǒ hé Steven jiàng zài èr líng èr líng nián sì yuè jiǔ rì jǔ xíng hūn lǐ.

Chinese Characters

我和Steven 将在2020年4月9日举行婚礼。

Meaning

Steven and I will have a wedding ceremony on April 9, 2020.

Keep Practicing…

Whether you’ve struggled with telling time in Chinese or found it pretty easy, practicing it Chinese daily will help you get to grips with telling the time.

Every day we have to arrange schedules for ourselves or for others, and this is a good opportunity to practice speaking them in Chinese. So, the more you speak, 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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