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A Fraction of the Time

This week we are going to review one aspect of telling the time in German that should be easy for intermediate and advanced German speakers, but a bit tricky for beginners. The telling of time in German uses quarterly divisions: Viertel (quarter), halb (half), and in some German dialects, drei viertel (three-quarters). 


For 15 minutes past the hour, you use Viertel nach: 


Heute morgen um Viertel nach sechs ist die Nationalmannschaft in Frankfurt gelandet.

This morning at a quarter past six, the national team landed in Frankfurt.

Caption 16, Umfragen - Nach der WM

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For 15 minutes before the hour, you use Viertel vor: 


Es ist Viertel vor acht.

It is quarter to eight.

Caption 22, Lydia erklärt - die Uhrzeit

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In American English, when the clock reads 1:30, it is called "one thirty", but the informal British English equivalent is "half one." For native British English speakers, the German rendering of 1:30 can be especially confusing: 


Es ist jetzt halb eins.

It is now half one [twelve thirty].

Caption 23, Jenny zeigt uns - Das Heidelberger Schloss

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So as you see, the British English "half one" is 1:30, but the German halb eins is 12:30. You just have to remember that when halb is used in telling time, it is always going a half hour back in time.


In some German dialects, instead of saying Viertel vor, they say drei viertel or "three quarters." In dialect, 12:45 could be drei viertel eins instead of Viertel vor eins


Note too that for grammatical reasons, Viertel nach and Viertel vor are capitalized, but halb and drei viertel are not. It is also important to note that the word Uhr, in this context the equivalent of "o'clock," is not used when telling the time with time divisions. At 10 o'clock you say it is zehn Uhr, but at 10:15 you simply say it is Viertel nach zehn, omitting the word Uhr.


Further Learning
Watch the video Lydia erklärt - die Uhrzeit on Yabla German to review the proper telling of time in German.

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