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5.10: Lesson 4 Grammar - Structure of times

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    65644
  • Time in Chinese, just like in English, is expressed by stating the hour first, and then the minute (big to small).

    On the Hour 

    The time of day in Chinese is formed with a number 1 to 12 (一 (yī) to 十二 (shí'èr)) followed by 点 (diăn). This 点 (diăn) is equivalent to o’clock in English. In China, people generally use a twelve-hour clock, preceded by 上午 (shàngwŭ) for "a.m." or 下午 (xiàwŭ) for "p.m." when necessary.

    Structure 

       (Date and/or time of day +) x 点

    Sometimes people use the longer 点钟 (diǎnzhōng) instead of just 点 (diǎn), but you're fine using the short form.

    Examples 

    If you want to include more specific information, start with the day or date, followed by the general time of day, with the exact clock time last. (This is the big-to-small pattern.) This is how Chinese gets around the need for "a.m." or "p.m.": use 上午 (shàngwǔ) for times in the morning, and 下午 (xiàwǔ) for times in the afternoon.

    • 九点
      jiǔ diǎn
      9 o'clock
       
    • 上午七点
      shàngwǔ qī diǎn
      7 o'clock a.m.
       
    • 下午四点
      xiàwǔ sì diǎn
      4 o'clock p.m.
       
    • 中午十二点
      zhōngwǔ shí'èr diǎn
      12 o'clock noon
       
    • 明天晚七点
      míngtiān wǎnshang qī diǎn
      7 o'clock p.m. tomorrow evening
       
    • 9 月 9 号早上六点
      jiǔ yuè jiǔ hào zǎoshang liù diǎn
      September 9th, 6 o'clock a.m.
       
    • 星期三上午九点
      Xīngqīsān shàngwǔ jiǔ diǎn
      Wednesday at 9 o'clock a.m.

    Note that two o'clock is 两点 (liǎng diǎn), not 二点 (èr diǎn). (For more information on when to use 两 (liǎng) vs. 二 (èr), see our article on comparing "er" and "liang").

    "Twelve o'clock," however, is still 十二点 (shí'èr diǎn).

    Half Hours 

    Half hours are added after 点 (diăn) and are indicated with 半 (bàn).

    Structure 

       x 点 + 半

    Examples 

    • 五点半
      wǔ diǎn bàn
      5:30
       
    • 下午两点半
      xiàwǔ liǎng diǎn bàn
      2:30 p.m.
       
    • 星期天上午十点半
      Xīngqītiān shàngwǔ shí diǎn bàn
      Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
       
    • 昨天晚上七点半
      zuótiān wǎnshang qī diǎn bàn
      7:30 yesterday evening
       
    • 今天下午四点半
      jīntiān xiàwǔ sì diǎn bàn
      4:30 p.m. this afternoon.

    More Advanced Time Phrases 

    Once you already know the basics of how to tell time in Chinese, you may want to get a little more specific or sophisticated, using words like 分 (fēn) and 刻 (kè).

    Minutes Past the Hour 

    Minutes are marked with 分 (fēn) (short for 分钟 (fēnzhōng)). The way to include them in the time depends on whether they're minutes past or to the hour.

    Minutes past the hour are expressed after 点 (diǎn) in the same way as half and quarter hours.

    Minutes Less Than 10 

    Structure 

    In Chinese, when the minute is under 10, the word 零 (líng) is often used after 点 (diǎn). For example, 2:07 would be said as “两点零七分” (liǎng diǎn líng qī fēn). However, note that when speaking, it is very common for most Chinese people take out the “分 (fēn)” at the end of the time.

       x 点零 y 分

    Examples 

    • 两点零九分
      liǎng diǎn líng jiǔ fēn
      2:09
       
    • 三点零八分
      sān diǎn líng bā fēn
      3:08
       
    • 五点零三分
      wǔ diǎn líng sān fēn
      5:03
       
    • 七点零一分
      qī diǎn líng yī fēn
      7:01
       
    • 八点零五分
      bā diǎn líng wǔ fēn
      8:05

    Minutes Greater Than 10 

    There's nothing tricky about this, since there's no 零 (líng). Just remember that in casual speech, the 分 (fēn) at the end is sometimes dropped.

    Structure 

       x 点 y 分

    Examples 

    • 一点四十分
      yī diǎn sìshí fēn
      1:40
       
    • 两点十分
      liǎng diǎn shí fēn
      2:10
       
    • 三点二十分
      sān diǎn èrshí fēn
      3:20
       
    • 七点十五分
      qī diǎn shíwǔ fēn
      7:15
       
    • 九点五十分
      jiǔ diǎn wǔshí fēn
      9:50

    Quarter Hours 

    In Chinese, quarter hours are only expressed on the 1st quarter x:15, and the third quarter x:45. Like half hours, they also come after the word 点 (diăn). We use the word 刻 (kè) to express "quarter hour."

    Structure 

       x 点 y 刻

    Examples 

    • 九点一刻
      jiǔ diǎn yī kè
      9:15
       
    • 十二点一刻
      shí'èr diǎn yī kè
      12:15
       
    • 六点三刻
      liù diǎn sān kè
      6:45

    You can just use 十五分 (shíwǔ fēn) for "15 minutes (past)" or 四十五分 (sìshí-wǔ fēn) for "45 minutes (past)" too, of course. It also works!

    Minutes to the Hour 

    When expressing how many minutes it will be till the next full hour, you put 差 (chā, “lacking”) in front of the time expression.

    Structure 

    Minutes to the hour use this structure:

       差 + Minutes + 分 + Hour + 点

    or

       Hour + 点 + 差 + Minutes + 分

    Examples 

    • 差五分三点
      chā wǔ fēn sān diǎn
      five minutes til 3 o'clock
       
    • 十二点差三分
      shí'èr diǎn chā sān fēn
      three minutes til 12 o'clock
       
    • 差五分八点半
      chā wǔ fēn bā diǎn bàn
      five minutes til 8:30
       
    • 十点差两分
      shí diǎn chā liǎng fēn
      two minutes til 10:00

    [adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

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    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!