While smartphones have made it easy to always know the time, it’s still useful to know how to ask what the time is and how to tell someone the time in Russian. In this post, we learn the basics of telling the time; for a more detailed look at the time, learn Russian online with a tutor.
How to Ask for the Time in Russian
Russians use two phrases when they ask for the time:
Который час? (Kotoryi chas?)
Сколько времени? (Skol’ko vremeni?)
These phrases can both be translated into English as “What time is it?” The difference between them is that the first is formal, while the second is colloquial.
You can also say, “Сколько сейчас времени?” (Skol’ko seichas vremeni?), which means “What time is it now?”
How to Tell Time in Russian
Russians typically use the 12-hour clock, especially in everyday conversations, but the 24-hour format is used in written language, as it’s more formal. Instead of indicating time of day using a.m. and p.m., Russians use “evening” (“вечер” – vecher), “morning” (“утро” – utro), “day” (“день” – den’), and “night” (“ночь” – noch’). For example:
пять часов вечера (pyat’ chasov vechera) – five in the evening
пять часов утра (pyat’ chasov utra) – five in the morning
три часа дня (tri chasa dnya) – three in the afternoon
два часа ночи (dva chasa nochi) – two in the morning
So, the basic rule is to say the number, then the word “час” (chas – hour) in the right case, and then to add the appropriate part of the day. Look at another example:
шесть часов утра (shest’ chasov utra) – six in the morning
час дня (chas dnya) – one in the afternoon
семь часов вечера (sem’ chasov vechera) – seven in the evening
три часа ночи (tri chasa nochi) – three in the morning
As you can see, when you say that it’s one in the afternoon, you can omit the number, which is “один” (odin – one) just to save the effort.
In the 24-hour format, 11 p.m. is “двадцать три часа” (dvadtsat’ tri chasa – eleven in the evening). You say the full number and then add the word “час” (chas – hour).
двадцать два часа (dvadtsat’ dva chasa) – ten in the evening
When the clock strikes twelve, it’s “полночь” (polnoch’ – midnight) or “полдень” (polden’ – noon).
Сейчас полночь. (Seichas polnoch’.)
How to Talk about the Exact Time in Russian
Telling the exact time is not that complicated if you know your Russian numbers.
Сейчас три часа двадцать минут. (Seichas tri chasa dvadtsat’ minut.)
Put the word “час” (chas – hour) after the hour and the word “минута” (minuta – minute) after the number of minutes.
Сейчас пять часов сорок пять минут. (Seichas pyat’ chasov sorok pyat’ minut.)
It’s five forty-five.
You don’t state the part of the day in this case, as you know it from the context.
Quarter and Half Hours
Like in English, you can break up hours into quarters, or “четверть” (chetvert’), and halves “половина” (polovina – half).
Сейчас четверть пятого. (Seichas chetvert’ pyatogo.)
It’s a quarter to five.
Сейчас половина восьмого. (Seichas polovina vos’mogo.)
It’s half past seven.
Please note that “четверть пятого” (chetvert’ pyatogo) means that it’s a quarter to five, “четверть шестого” (chetvert’ shestogo) it’s a quarter to six, and so on.
Another way to say that it’s half past eight is to use “полвосьмого” (polvos’mogo), the half of the next hour.
На часах полшестого. (Na chasakh polshestogo.)
The clock shows that it’s half past five.
When the Time Falls in the Second Half of the Hour
Finally, we use different phrases to tell time that falls in the second half of the hour. When it’s 3:55, you say, “без пяти минут четыре” (bez pyati minut chetyre – five minutes to four). Basically, use the preposition “без” (bez – without), and then say how much time is left until four, like in the example above. The word “minute” is optional; it’s better to omit it in everyday speech.
Без пятнадцати второго (bez pytnadtsati vtorogo) – a quarter to two
Без двадцати час (bez dvadtsati chas) – twenty to twelve
Learn to Speak Russian Like a Native
Study these rules step by step and learn your numbers to tell the time like a native Russian. Although this sounds complicated, learning to tell the time in Russian is much simpler when you work with a Russian teacher.