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How to Tell Time in Chinese: Vocabulary, Times of the Day, Expressions and More

Telling 时间 (shí jiān — time) is a basic conversation skill for Chinese learners.

Knowing how to tell and ask for the time helps you arrange all social occasions from romantic dates to business meetings.

With the essential skill of time-telling, you’ll be better able to manage your schedule and coordinate with others.

In this post, you’ll learn how to tell time in Chinese, ask for the time, count minutes and hours and more.


How to Tell Hours in Chinese

We’ll begin by learning how to tell hours in Chinese. To tell the hour, simply say:

number of the hour + 点 (diǎn – o’clock)

But first, to do that, we need to remember the numbers in Chinese. 

If you already know your Chinese numbers, that’s great. Here we’ll revisit them as a review, especially since there’s a special “two” we use in telling time, which is different from the “two” we use in counting.

To review, here are the digits 1 through 12 in Chinese:

十一 shí yī11
十二 shí èr12

* (liǎng) can also be used in place of 二.

Now, we can easily tell hours in Chinese. For example:

一点 yī diǎn1:00
两点 liǎng diǎn2:00
三点 sān diǎn3:00
四点 sì diǎn4:00
五点 wǔ diǎn5:00
六点 liù diǎn6:00
七点 qī diǎn7:00
八点 bā diǎn8:00
九点 jiǔ diǎn9:00
十点 shí diǎn10:00
十一点 shí yī diǎn11:00
十二点 shí èr diǎn12:00

How to Tell Minutes in Chinese

To tell minutes in Chinese, use the formula:

number +  (fēn – minutes)

To ensure that you’ll always know how to talk about minutes, let’s review the digits up to 60.

Teen digits in Chinese are “10+x,” with x being the number added to 10. For example:

十三 shí sān13
十四 shí sì14
十五 shí wǔ15
十六 shí liù16
十七 shí qī17
十八 shí bā18
十九 shí jiǔ19
二十 èr shí20
三十 sān shí30
四十 sì shí40
五十 wǔ shí50
三十三 sān shí sān33
二十二 èr shí èr22
四十四 sì shí sì44
五十六 wǔ shí liù56

The twenties, thirties, forties and fifties follow a pattern like the teens.

Based on what we’ve learned above, here are some examples of how to tell minutes:

十三分 (shí sān fēn) — 13 minutes

十四分 (shí sì fēn) — 14 minutes

三十三(sān shí sān fēn) — 33 minutes

五十分 (wǔ shí fēn) — 50 minutes

Note that, whereas in English it’s fine to omit the word “minutes” (for 8:10, we say “eight ten”), in Chinese it sounds more natural to always include 分 and say “minutes.”

So, it’s correct to say, “八点十分” (bā diǎn shí fēn), literally “eight o’clock ten minutes.”

Half and Quarter Hours in Chinese

To say “half past,” we use (bàn) — half. For example:

五点半 (wǔ diǎn bàn) — half past five (5:30)

To indicate quarters, we say 一刻 (yī kè) — quarter hour.

For example:

三点一刻 (sān diǎn yī kè) — quarter past three (3:15)

Just to note, in Chinese, there’s no “ten to” or “ten past.” Similarly, in Chinese, there’s also no “quarter to.” There’s only “quarter after.” Interesting, I know—that’s just the way it is!

How to Tell Any Time in Chinese

We’re now familiar with the number system and how to tell hours and minutes. Let’s put it all together and go through some examples of telling time.

十一点二十分 (shí yī diǎn èr shí fēn) — 11:20

四点十分 (sì diǎn shí fēn) — 4:10

九点十五分 (jǐu diǎn shí wǔ fēn) — 9:15

九点一刻 (jǐu diǎ yī kè) — quarter past nine (9:15)

一点三十分 (yī diǎn sān shí fēn) — 1:30

一点半 (yī diǎn bàn) — half past one (1:30)

How to Say A.M. and P.M. in Chinese

To indicate a.m. and p.m. in Chinese we say “in the morning,” “in the afternoon” or “in the evening.”

There’s no direct translation of a.m. and p.m. Most of the time, a.m. and p.m. is understood in context.

早上 zǎo shàngMorning
早上五点 zǎo shàng wǔ diǎn5:00 AM
下午 xià wǔAfternoon
下午三点 xià wǔ sān diǎn3:00 PM
中午 zhōng wǔNoon
中午十二点 zhōng wǔ shí èr diǎn12:00 PM
晚上 wǎn shàngEvening
晚上七点十分 wǎn shàng qī diǎn shí fēn7:10 PM
半夜 bàn yèMidnight / Middle of the night
半夜两点半 bàn yè liǎng diǎn bàn2:30 AM

Different Times of the Day in Chinese

Here’s useful vocabulary related to key times during the day:

用餐时间 yòng cān shí jiānMeal time
午休时间 wǔ xīu shí jiānLunch time
晚饭时间 wǎn fàn shí jiānDinner time
休息时间 xīu xī shí jiānBreak time
就寢时间 jìu qǐn shí jiānBedtime

Let’s use this vocabulary in sentences, so you can see how to employ them in real life:

用餐的时间到了, 请先洗手。
(yòng cān de shí jiān dào le, qǐng xiān xǐ shǒu.)
It’s time to eat, please wash your hands.

午休时, 办公室里没有人。
(wǔ xīu shí, bàn gōng shì lǐ méi yǒu rén.)
There’s no one in the office during lunchtime.

(wǎn cān de shí jiān dào le, dàn shì bà ba hái méi húi jiā.)
It’s dinner time, but dad is not home yet.

(wǒ mén gōng sī sān diǎn xīu xi.)
Our office takes a break at three.

(jìu qǐn shí jiān dào le, xiǎo péng yǒu qǐng ān jìng.)
It’s bedtime now, so kids, please be quiet.

How to Ask for the Time in Chinese

Now that you know how to tell the time, let’s explore the different ways you can ask for the time in Chinese.

(请问)现在几点了? (qǐngwèn) xiàn zài jǐ diǎnl le?(Excuse me), what time is it now?
(请问)你知道现在的时间吗? (qǐngwèn) nǐ zhī dào xiàn zài de shí jiān ma?(Excuse me), do you know the time now?
(请问)预约是什么时候? (qǐngwèn) yù yuē shì shén me shí hòu?(Excuse me), when is the appointment?
你的时区是什么? nǐ de shí qū shì shén me?What's your timezone?
A和B的时差是X个小时 A hé B de shí chā shì X gè xiǎo shíThe time difference between A and B is X hours
我们两地的时差是X个小时 wǒ men liǎng dì de shí chā shì X gè xiǎo shíThe time difference between our two places is X hours

How to Use Time Expressions in Chinese

Sometimes you don’t need to say what time it is, you only want to tell someone to be more timely.

For situations where you want to communicate the need to rush, here are some common phrases to get your message through:

快点吧 kuài diǎn baHurry up
我迟到了 wǒ chí dào leI'm late
请早点到 qǐng zǎo diǎn dàoBe early
请准时到 qǐng zhǔn shí dàoBe on time

Let’s look at example sentences to illustrate the above vocabulary:

(kuài diǎn ba! wǒ yào shàng kè le.)
Hurry up! I need to go to class.

我要迟到了, 请你快点。
(wǒ yào chí dào le, qǐng nǐ kuài diǎn.)
I’m going to be late, please hurry.

(míng tiān de hùi yì hěn zhòng yào, qǐng zǎo diǎn dào.)
Tomorrow’s meeting is very important, please be early.

(hǔo chē yì bān zhǔn shí kāi chē, lǚ kè qǐng zhǔn shí dào.)
The train runs on schedule; passengers please be on time.


Telling time is one of many basic skills you can acquire in building your Chinese language foundation.

Practice is what makes perfect, so make sure you dedicate some time to putting the work in!

An effective way of picking up these time-related phrases—and other aspects of Mandarin—is through learning in context. This can be done through most types of authentic Chinese media, such as podcasts, vlogs, dramas and Chinese films.

If Chinese media is too advanced for you, the online language learning program FluentU takes snippets of that content and pairs the clips with interactive subtitles. This lets you watch and read how native speakers naturally speak about time.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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With numbers and time under your belt, you’re well on your way to conquering many other conversational basics.

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