How to Tell Time in German

by Expath Language School

Five before half six? Germans sometimes have interesting ways of giving you the time.

To better understand expressions like “zwanzig vor” and “fünf vor halb fünf” it may help to imagine the clock as depicted below:

"Vor" and "Nach"

Generally, if something is within 20-25 minutes before the hour, Germans use “vor”, and for everything within 20-25 minutes past the hour, they use “nach”:

Es ist 10 vor 6. It’s 10 minutes to 6. = 5:50
Es ist viertel nach 6. It’s quarter past 6. = 6:15
Es ist 20 nach 6. It’s 20 past 6. = 6:20
Es ist 10 vor. It’s 10 minutes to the hour. = X:50

"Halb"

If something is within 5 minutes of the absolute bottom of the hour (where the 6 is on a clock), this is called “halb” and Germans use expressions like “vor halb” and “nach halb”.

Note that halb refers to half of the hour you’re in, so 5:30 would be “halb 6”.

Es ist 5 nach halb 6. It’s 5:35.
Es ist 5 vor halb 6. It’s 5:25.
Es ist 5 vor halb. It’s 25 minutes past the hour.

Kurz

If you’re talking about just a few minutes, Germans often use “kurz vor” or “kurz nach” rather than be specific. Not, however, at train stations, or anywhere you might use the 24-hour clock

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