How to tell the time in Chinese: A fun and simple guide

Learning to tell the time in Chinese can unlock a whole new world of possibilities.

From asking your friends out to coffee, to double-checking when your Chinese homework is due, being able to speak about and get clarification on the exact time is a must-have skill. It can even be one of the most important skills for international business people, as Chinese is the second-most important language for international business.

Beyond that, the Chinese language also employs many time-related expressions, like time adverbs and chengyu. Learning some time-related vocabulary in Chinese will help you catch more of these references and speak more like a local.

So, whether you’re still working your way through the first few of your online Mandarin classes or are looking to impress some of your Chinese colleagues, we’ll cover some excellent ways to tell the time in Chinese below.

There’s no time to waste, so let’s get started!

Table of contents

Learning to tell the time in Chinese can unlock a whole new world of possibilities.

Telling time in Chinese

Before you start working on the time-related vocabulary and expressions, you should already be familiar with some of the basic building blocks of Chinese. You’ll definitely want to know some Chinese numbers as well as the days, months, and years in Chinese. Once you’ve got those down, learning how to tell the time in Chinese is just a matter of learning a few structures and getting comfortable with a couple of measure words!

How to tell the time on the hour

Telling the time on the hour in Chinese is extremely easy. All you need to do is add the measure word 点 (diǎn) after the number of the hour you are trying to say. This is similar to saying “o’clock” in English, when the exact time may or may not be the exact hour. If you want to emphasize that it’s a sharp hour, you can add 整 (zhěng) after the 点 (diǎn).

1:00一点yī diǎni dean
2:00两点liǎng diǎnleang dean
3:00三点sān diǎnsan dean
4:00四点sì diǎnsyh dean
5:00五点wǔ diǎnwuu dean
6:00六点liù diǎnliow dean
7:00七点qī diǎnchi dean
8:00八点bā diǎnba dean
9:00九点jiǔ diǎnjeou dean
10:00十点shí diǎnshyr dean
11:00十一点shí yī diǎnshyr i dean
12:00十二点shí’èr diǎnshyr ell dean

Alternatively, if you want to talk about hours as a unit of time, you can use the noun 小时 (xiǎo shí), which means hour, along with the measure word 个 (gè). While using the measure word is pretty common, it is also optional, so you don’t always have to use it. Here are some examples for talking about hours as units of time both with and without the measure word 个 (gè):

1 hour一个小时yī gè xiǎo shíi geh sheau shyr
2 hours两个小时liǎng gè xiǎo shíleang geh sheau shyr
8 hours八小时bā xiǎo shíba sheau shyr
10 hours十小时shí gè xiǎo shíshyr sheau shyr
24 hours二十四小时èr shí sì xiǎo shíell shyr syh sheau shyr

How to tell exact minutes in Chinese

To tell the time with precise minutes, all you need to do is add the number of minutes immediately after the 点 (diǎn) as described in the previous section. You may choose to emphasize the minutes by adding 分 (fēn) after the number of minutes, which is short for 分钟 (fēn zhōng), the Chinese word for minutes. However, most people omit this as it’s implied that you’re referring to the minutes. Here are a few examples:

1:07一点零七(分)yī diǎn líng qī (fēn)i dean ling chi (fen)
1:12一点十二(分)yī diǎn shí'èr (fēn)i dean shyr ell (fen)
1:30一点三十(分)yī diǎn sān shí (fēn)i dean san shyr (fen)
1:45一点四十五(分)yī diǎn sì shí wǔ (fēn)i dean syh shyr wuu (fen)
1:57一点五十七(分)yī diǎn wǔ shí qī (fēn)i dean wuu shyr chi (fen)

Now that you know how to say hours and minutes in Chinese, you can use them as time measurements. Here are a few examples of how you can talk about one minute, fifteen minutes, an hour and forty-five minutes, and more!

1 minute一分钟yī fēn zhōngi fen jong
15 minutes十五分钟shí wǔ fēn zhōngshyr wuu fen jong
57 minutes五十七分钟wǔ shí qī fēn zhōngwuu shyr chi fen jong
1 hour and 45 minutes一小时四十五分yī xiǎo shí sì shí wǔ fēni sheau shyr syh shyr wuu fen
2 hours and 12 minutes两小时十二分(钟)liǎng xiǎo shí shí'èr fēn (zhōng)leang sheau shyr shyr (fen)

How to say half past, quarter past, and quarter to

Just like English, Chinese can also divide the hours in halves and quarters to tell the time. While using these forms to tell time isn’t necessary (you can stick to 15 and 30 minutes if you’d like!), you should still be aware of them for when you hear them in the wild. One thing to note is that, although you can also say “it’s a quarter to three” like we do in English, this is less common in Chinese, as simply saying “it’s two and three quarters” sounds more natural. Here are some examples:

1:15一点一刻yī diǎn yí kèi dean i keh
2:15两点一刻liǎng diǎn yí kèleang dean yi keh
2:45两点三刻liǎng diǎn sān kèleang dean san keh
2:45三点差一刻sān diǎn chà yí kèsan dean chah yi keh
7:30七点半qī diǎn bànchi dean bann
10:45十点三刻shí diǎn sān kèshyr dean san keh

And if you want to talk about quarters or half hours as a measure of time, you can also do that by following the structure below:

15 minutes一刻钟yī kè zhōngi keh jong
Half an hour半小时bàn xiǎo shíbann sheau shyr
45 minutes三刻钟sān kè zhōngsan keh jong
1 hour and a half一个半小时yī gè bàn xiǎo shíi geh bann sheau shyr

How to ask for the time in Chinese?

Once you’ve gotten a handle on some sentences to tell the time, it’s time to learn how to ask for the time in Chinese. Below, we’ll cover a few ways to ask what the time is with varying levels of formality to help you find the right one. Plus, with remote work being now more common than ever, we’ve also included a way to ask someone what timezone they’re in!

Ask for the time in Chinese.

What time is it?几点了?jǐ diǎn le?jii dean lheCasual way to ask for the time.
What time is it right now?现在几点?xiàn zài jǐ diǎn?shiann tzay jii deanUsed when you want to know the exact time.
What time is it right now?现在几点钟?xiàn zài jǐ diǎn zhōng?shiann tzay jii dean jongLonger form of the previous question.
Excuse me, do you know the time right now?请问,你知道现在的时间吗?qǐng wèn nǐ zhī dào xiàn zài de shí jiān ma?chiing wenn nii jy daw shiann tzay .de shyr jian mhaMore polite way of asking someone if they know the time.
What’s your timezone?你在哪个时区?nǐ zài nǎ gè shí qū?nii tzay naa geh shyr chiuHelpful way to ask someone for their timezone.

How to say the time of day in Chinese

Often times, we’ll want to discuss things that happened or will happen in a particular time of the day without going into too much detail. Maybe you have plans this evening, but don’t need to be specific about them. Perhaps you want to know what your friend is planning tomorrow morning or if they’re free in the afternoon to study. For those scenarios, Chinese has a few words with no precise time boundaries to help you make plans with broad strokes.

EnglishChinesePinyinPronunciationTime period
Morning (early)早上zǎo shàngtzao shangFrom dawn until around 9:00 a.m.
Morning (late)上午shàng wǔshanq wuuFrom around 9:00 a.m. until around 11:00 a.m.
Noon中午zhōng wǔjong wuuFrom around 11:00 a.m. until around 1:00 p.m.
Afternoon下午xià wǔshiah wuuFrom around 1:00 p.m. until around 8:00 p.m.
Evening (early)傍晚bàng wǎnbanq woanFrom around 6:00 p.m. to around 9:00 p.m.
Evening晚上wǎn shàngwoan shangFrom around 8:00 p.m. to around 11:00 p.m.
Midnight半夜bàn yèbann yehFrom around 11:00 p.m. until around 1:00 a.m.
Evening (late)深夜shēn yèshen yehFrom around 1:00 a.m. until around 3:00 a.m.
Very early morning凌晨líng chénling chernFrom around 3:00 a.m. until dawn

Now, here are some helpful sentences using some of the time of day vocabulary we covered above. Can you think of a few more examples using the vocabulary above?

3 o’clock in the morning凌晨三点líng chén sān diǎnling chern san dean
10 o’clock in the morning早上十点zǎo shang shí diǎntzao shang shyr dean
4 o’clock in the afternoon下午四点xià wǔ sì diǎnshiah wuu syh dean
Noon中午十二点zhōng wǔ shí'èr diǎnjong wuu shyr ell dean
7 o’clock in the evening傍晚七点bàng wǎn qī diǎnbanq woan chi dean
11 o’clock at night晚上十一点wǎn shàng shí yī diǎnwoan shanq shyr i dean
Midnight半夜十二点bàn yè shí'èr diǎnbann yeh shyr ell dean
10 o’clock in the morning, today今天早上十点jīn tiān zǎo shang shí diǎnjin tian tzao shang shyr dean
10 o’clock in the morning on Monday星期一上午十点xīng qī yī shàng wǔ shí diǎnshing chyi i shanq wuu shyr dean

Chinese time adverbs

Time adverbs can help us talk about time without explicitly mentioning it. Sometimes you need to do something immediately, or want to ask someone if they’re free later, or if they’re almost done with their homework. Whatever the case, these adverbs help us talk about time indirectly in everyday conversations. Here are a few Chinese adverbs of time that you should be familiar with:

Learning how to tell the time in Chinese will help with travel arrangements.

Right now现在xiàn zàishiann tzay
Currently目前mù qiánmuh chyan
At the same time同时tóng shítorng shyr
Before之前zhī qiánjy chyan
After之后zhī hòujy how
Very soon很快hěn kuàiheen kuay
Immediately立刻lì kèlih keh
Right away马上mǎ shàngmaa shanq
Almost差不多chà bu duōchah bu duo
In a little while过一会儿guò yī huìrguoh i huey
For a long time很久hěn jiǔheen jeou
Any time任何时候rèn hé shí hourenn her shyr hou
As soon as possible尽快jìn kuàijinn kuay
Just now刚才gāng cáigang tsair

Other time-related phrases in Chinese

If you’re pressed for time and just want to learn a few short and helpful phrases, then boy oh boy do we have the right cheat sheet for you! The table below has a handful of super short and super helpful time-related phrases in Chinese that you can use in your daily life.

Hurry up快点吧kuài diǎn bakuay dean ba
Hurry up!赶紧的!gǎn jǐn de!gaan jiin de
I'm late我迟到了wǒ chí dào lewoo chyr daw lhe
Please be early请早点到qǐng zǎo diǎn dàochiing tzao dean daw
Please be on time请准时到qǐng zhǔn shí dàochiing joen shyr daw
Don’t be late!不要迟到!bù yào chí dào!buh yaw chyr daw

Fun facts about time in Mandarin Chinese

How ancient Chinese measure time - 12 Shi Chen

If you’re interested in astrology, then you probably already know that your time of birth can change your birth chart, as the positions of the planets change by the second. However, did you know that Chinese zodiacs also change by the hour?

The 十二时辰 (shí èr shí chén) are two-hour periods that each represent a different animal in the Chinese zodiac. The time of the day you were born influences your emotions and personality, as does the day, month, and year. Which Chinese hour zodiac are you?

TimeAnimalChinese namePinyinPronunciation
11 p.m. to 1 a.m.Rat子时zǐ shítzyy shyr
1 a.m. to 3 a.m.Ox丑时chǒu shíchoou shyr
3 a.m. to 5 a.m.Tiger寅时yín shíyn shyr
5 a.m. to 7 a.m.Rabbit卯时mǎo shímao shyr
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.Dragon辰时chén shíchern shyr
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.Snake巳时sì shísyh shyr
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.Horse午时wǔ shíwuu shyr
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.Sheep未时wèi shíwey shyr
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.Monkey申时shēn shíshen shyr
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.Rooster酉时yǒu shíyeou shyr
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.Dog戌时xū shíshiu shyr
9 p.m. to 11 p.m.Pig亥时hài shíhay shyr

Chinese proverbs on time

If you’ve been studying Chinese for a while now, you know that the Chengyu and many other forms of idioms are incredibly common in everyday speak. Virtually all topics have specific Chengyu and idioms, which impart little nuggets of Chinese wisdom and history in just a few words. Here are some of the most important proverbs about time in Chinese.

Woman meditates in the morning sun.

Time and tide wait for no man时不待我shí bù dāi wǒshyr buh dai woo
Time flies like an arrow, the sun and moon shuttle back and forth光阴似箭,日月如梭guāng yīn sì jiàn, rì yuè rú suōguang in syh jiann ryh yueh ru suo
An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴yī cùn guāng yīn yī cùn jīn, cùn jīn nán mǎi cùn guāng yīni tsuenn guang in i tsuenn jin tsuenn jin nan mae tsuenn guang in
Time is money时间就是金钱shí jiān jiù shì jīn qiánshyr jian jiow shyh jin chyan
Never too old to learn, never too late to turn亡羊补牢,为时未晚wáng yáng bǔ láo, wéi shí weì wǎnwang yang buu lau wei shyr wey woan
Life is too short人生苦短rén shēng kǔ duǎnren sheng kuu doan
Lost time cannot be recuperated时光流逝,不可复得shí guāng liú shì, bù kě fù déshyr guang liou shyh buh kee fuh der
If you live your life waiting for tomorrow, it will never come我生待明日,万事成蹉跎wǒ shēng dài míng rì, wàn shì chéng cuō tuówoo sheng day ming ryh wann shyh cherng tsuo two

No time like today to learn how to tell the time

As you now know, learning to tell the time in Mandarin isn’t hard once you know the numbers, so why not tackle this milestone today? Soon, you’ll be able to ask your friends for the time, talk about time periods, and make more effective plans for study dates and business meetings!

If you can’t count the time until you pick up your next Mandarin skill, then head over to our Chinese blog! We routinely publish helpful and easy-to-read guides to help you learn different parts about Chinese, like our guide to all Chinese radicals and our expert tips to learning Chinese characters!

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