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Telling Time in Chinese

How to Tell The Time in Chinese

Knowing how to tell the time in any language is considered to be one of the most basic and important skills to have. In this article, we will talk about everything you need to know about “time” in Chinese. 

Knowing how to place the time words in their correct order is crucial. But don’t worry, the rule of thumb is, “BIG TO SMALL.” 

See the infographic below. I have made up a name for the order of Chinese time words, “Time Order Slide.” 

In Chinese, we always place the time word that has the bigger time range in front of the smaller time range word. 

time order slide

 

Here is a list of these:

Year then month

Day of the week then AM

Hour then minute then second 

We will introduce the most common time words in the following sections. Let’s get started!

 

Year in Chinese

Keyword

Year 年 nián 

Structure: number + 年

When saying the year, we usually just say the digit number without using words such as “thousand,” “hundred,” and “ten.”  

 

For example,

Year 2020 二〇二〇 年 èr líng èr líng nián

Year 1893 一八九三 年 yī bā jiǔ sān nián

 

george-washington

I was born in 1732. 

我是 一七三二年 出生的。

Wǒ shì yī qī sān èr nián chūshēng de.

 

Month in Chinese

Keyword

Month 月 yuè 

Structure: number + 月

The month in Chinese is very straightforward and much easier than in English. If you are familiar with numbers in Chinese, you simply just place the number before “月 yuè .” 

 

January 一月 yī yuè (literally one + month)

February 二月 èr yuè (literally two + month)

March 三月 sān yuè (literally three + month)

April 四月 sì yuè

May 五月 wǔ yuè

June 六月 liù yuè

July 七月 qī yuè

August 八月 bā yuè

September 九月 jiǔ yuè

October 十月 shí yuè

November 十一月 shí yī yuè

December 十二月 shí èr yuè

 

Let’s review again the rule of thumb, BIG TO SMALL

Examples:

October 1981, 

1981 has a bigger time range than October. So, we place 1981 first, and then October.

Year of 1981: 一九八一 年 yī joǔ bā yī nián

October: 十月 shí yuè

October 1981: 一九八一 年 十月

olympic-game

 

July 2020

The correct order in Chinese: 2020 → July

In Chinese: 二〇二〇 年 七月 èr líng èr líng nián qī yuè

 

Dates in Chinese

Keywords

Date 日

Date 号 hào

Structure: number + 日 / 号

Both 日 rì and 号 hào mean date. They are interchangeable in most cases. However, 日 rì will also be used in a formal conversation or document, such as contracts, wedding invitations. In casual conversations, you can use either one. 

Examples,

The fourth of July: 七月 四日 qī yuè sì rì4th-of-july

14th of February: 二月 十四号 èr yuè shísì hào

December 31st: 十二月 三十一号 shí èr yuè sānshíyī hào

January 1st, 2020: 二〇二〇 年 一月 一号 èr líng èr líng nián yī yuè yī hào

 

 

 

Days of The Week in Chinese

Keyword

Week 星期 xīngqī 

Days of the week in Chinese are simple, too. You simply combine the word “” and number together. Here are a few tips you should pay attention to:

  1. Structure: 星期 + number
  2. 一 is “one” in Chinese. “Monday” is “星期一.”
  3. Sunday is NOT “星期七.” Sunday is “星期日” or “星期天”

 

Monday 星期一 xīngqī yī (literally week + one)

Tuesday 星期二 xīngqī èr (literally week + two)

Wednesday 星期三 xīngqī sān (literally week + three)

Thursday 星期四 xīngqī sì

Friday 星期五 xīngqī wǔ

Saturday 星期六 xīngqī liù

Sunday 星期日 xīngqī rì

Sunday 星期天 xīngqī tiān

 

Example,

The Tokyo Olympic starts on Friday, July 24th, 2020.olympic-game

二〇二〇年 东京 奥运 是 七月二十四日 星期五 开始。

Èr líng èr líng nián dōngjīng àoyùn shì qī yuè èrshísì rì xīngqíwǔ kāishǐ.

 

 

Weekend in Chinese

Keyword

Weekend 周末 zhōumò

 

Example,

We are going to California at the weekend.

我们 周末 要去 加州。

Wǒmen zhōumò yào qù jiāzhōu.

 

 

AM, PM in Chinese

Unlike month and week, AM and PM in Chinese are not as straightforward as in English. We have different words to describe the different times of the day. 

 

Early morning 早上 zǎoshang

Late morning 上午 shàngwǔ, 

Noon 中午 zhōngwǔ

Afternoon 下午 xiàwǔ

Dusk 傍晚 bàngwǎn, 

Evening 晚上 wǎnshàng

Midnight 半夜 bànyè

Dawn 凌晨 língchén

And this infographic can help you to be more famliar with AM and PM in Chinese

AM PM in Chinese

 

Example,

I will see you around noon. 

我们中午见!

Wǒmen zhōngwǔ jiàn!

 

 

Hours in Chinese

hours

 

Keywords

Hour 点 diǎn

Hour 点钟 diǎn zhōng

 

Both “点 diǎn” and “点钟 diǎn zhōng” mean o’clock. But the usage of  “点钟 diǎn zhōng” is more limited. It can only be used when talking about a time in the hour. Like 8 o’clock, but not 8:20. However, “点 diǎn” can be used for any time description. 

Structure: number + 点 / 点钟

 

Examples,

8 o’clock 八点 / 八点钟 bā diǎn / bā diǎn zhōng

10 PM 晚上十点 / 晚上十点钟 Wǎnshàng shí diǎn/wǎnshàng shí diǎn zhōng

 

 

Minutes in Chinese

15 minutes

Keywords

Minute 分 fēn

Half of an hour: 半

A quarter of an hour: 刻

Structure: number + 分

 

Examples,

5:05 五点 零五分 wǔ diǎn líng wǔ fēn

7:15 七点 一刻 qī diǎn yī kè

3:30 pm 下午 三点 半 xiàwǔ sān diǎn bàn

12:00 PM 中午 十二点 (钟) Zhōngwǔ shí’èr diǎn (zhōng)

 

8:20 八点二十 (分) bā diǎn èrshí (fēn)

You can’t say 八点钟 二十 (分) bā diǎn zhōng èrshí (fēn), since zhōng can only be used for on the hour.

 

 

Seconds in Chinese

Keyword

秒 miǎo second

Structure: number + 秒

 

Examples,

Fifteen seconds 十五秒 shíwǔ miǎo 15 seconds

59 seconds 五十九 wǔshíjiǔ miǎo

 

 

Past, Present and Future Time in Chinese

Past, present and future time words often appear in daily conversations. The infographic below displays the most common ones.Past-Present-Future time in Chinese

 

You can download this infographic by just right-click. We also make the list and downloadable PDF files.

Past, Present, Future in Chinese

Past, Present, Future in Chinese PDF

For weekends, the rule will go by week.

Last weekend 上周末 shàng ge zhōumò

This weekend 这周末 zhè ge zhōumò

Next weekend 下个周末 xià ge zhōumò

 

 

Time in Chinese

Realistically, when you make an appointment with someone, you won’t say “Let’s meet in January!” You will probably combine some of the time words, like “See you tomorrow at 3 pm.”

Tomorrow, 3 o’clock and pm are all time words. Remember the rule of thumb we mentioned earlier, whenever you combine more than one time word, you order them from big to small for the time range.

 

Let’s have some more examples to practice with.

Example 1,

5 am     5 o'clock

There are 12 hours belong to AM. And a moment for “5 o’clock.” AM is a bigger time range than 5 o’clock.

 

So, we place the AM words first. Then 5 o’clock.

  1. 5 AM is early morning, so we will use the word “早上 zǎoshang, early morning” for AM.
  2. Then 5 o’clock. 5 is “五,” hour “点.” 5 o’clock will be “五点”
  3. Then when we combine steps 1 & 2, it will be “早上五点”

Sentence example,

I wake up at 5 am.

早上 起床。Wǒ zǎoshang wǔ diǎn qǐchuáng.

 

Example 2,

Tomorrow noon

Tomorrow (24 hours) has a bigger time range than noon (around one hour). So, we place tomorrow first, and then noon.

Tomorrow is “明天” and noon is “中午.” Simply place them in order and that is “明天中午” 

See you tomorrow at noon.

明天 中午 见!Míngtiān zhōngwǔ jiàn!

 

 

Example 3,

7 pm this Tuesday

There are three time words in this example. “7,” “pm” and “this Tuesday.”

The biggest one is “this Tuesday,” which is “这个星期二” in Chinese.

The second one is “pm,” since “7 pm” is in the evening, so we use the word “晚上.”

The last one is “7 o’clock,” which is “七点.”

Let’s place them in the correct order,

这个星期二 晚上 七点 (This Tuesday, pm, 7 o’clock)

 

Example 3 in a sentence,

8 pm in Chinese

I have a piano class at 8 pm this Tuesday.

这个星期二 晚上 八点 有钢琴课。Wǒ zhège xīngqī’èr wǎnshàng bā diǎn yǒu gāngqín kè.

 

 

 

Example 4,

November 3rd, 2020

There are three different time words in this example, November, 3rd day of the month, and the year 2020.

The “year 2020” has the biggest time range. It is “二〇二〇 年”

“November” follows after 2020. It is “十一月.”

“3rd” is the last. It is “三日” or “三号.”

So November 3rd, 2020 in Chinese will be “二〇二〇 年 十一月 三日

 

Example 4 in sentence,

The election day is on November 3rd, 2020.

二〇二〇年 十一月 三日 是选举日。Èr líng èr líng nián shíyī yuè sān rì shì xuǎnjǔ rì.election day in Chinese

 

We have talked about the most common time words in Chinese above. The following words are not as common as the ones above. But we will list them here.

 

 

Century in Chinese

Keyword

世纪 shìjì century

Examples:

21st century, 二十一世纪

15th century, 十五世纪

 

 

Decade in Chinese

Keyword

十年 shí nián decade

In Chinese, we do not have a special word for “decade.” We simply say “十年.”

 

Example:

We have known each other for two decades. She is my best friend.

我们认识二十年了。她是我最好的朋友。

Wǒmen rènshì èrshí niánle. Tā shì wǒ zuì hǎo de péngyǒu.

BC in Chinese

Keywords

BC 公元前 gōngyuán qián

BC 西元前 xīyuán qián

 

The word “前 qián” means before. “公元 gōngyuán” and “西元 xīyuán” are interchangeable. 

Structure: 公元前 / 西元前 + number of the year

 

Example:

The Qin Dynasty was formed around 220 BC.

秦朝 大约 在 公元前 两百二十年 建立的。

Qín cháo dàyuē zài gōngyuán qián liǎng bǎi èrshí nián jiànlì de.

 

 

AD in Chinese

Keywords

AD 公元 gōngyuán

AD 西元 xīyuán

 

Examples:

300 AD 西元 三百年 xīyuán sānbǎi nián

1250 AD 公元 一千两百五十 年 gōngyuán yīqiān liǎng bǎi wǔshí nián

 

 

Time Duration in Chinese

When we talk about time, it can refer to a moment or duration of time. 

When I refer to “time duration” here, it means an activity that has been going on for a certain period of time.

Let’s use these two examples below to explain:

 

I will go to my friend’s house on Sunday.

There is no action continuing to happen. So “Sunday” here is not a time duration. This will be considered in a moment. 

 

It took me two hours to finish my homework today.

“Two hours” will be the “time duration” since “doing homework” is a continuous action. 

 

Time moment and time duration are in different places in a Chinese sentence. 

The time moment word can be placed either right before, or right after, the subject. On the other hand, time duration will be placed at the end of a Chinese sentence. 

 

I will go to my friend’s house on Sunday.

我 星期天 会去 我朋友家。

Wǒ xīngqítiān huì qù wǒ péngyǒu jiā.

time duration in ChineseI did homework for two hours.

我做功课做了 两个钟头

Wǒ zuò gōngkè zuòle liǎng ge zhōngtóu.

 

 

Time Words in Chinese List

Let’s review all the time words below,

You can also download the Chinese time words list.

Year 年 nián

Month 月 yuè

Date 日 rì

Date 号 hào

Week 星期 xīngqī

Weekend 周末 zhōumò

Early morning 早上 zǎoshang

Late morning 上午 shàngwǔ,

Noon 中午 zhōngwǔ

Afternoon 下午 xiàwǔ

Dusk 傍晚 bàngwǎn,

Evening 晚上 wǎnshàng

Midnight 半夜 bànyè

Dawn 凌晨 língchén

Hour 点 diǎn

Hour 点钟 diǎn zhōng

Minute 分 fēn

Half of an hour: 半

A quarter of an hour: 刻

秒 miǎo second

Last weekend 上周末 shàng ge zhōumò

This weekend 这周末 zhè ge zhōumò

Next weekend 下个周末 xià ge zhōumò

Century 世纪 shìjì

Decade 十年 shí nián

BC 公元前 gōngyuán qián

BC 西元前 xīyuán qián

AD 公元 gōngyuán

AD 西元 xīyuán

 

Download Time words in Chinese PDF 

 

What is Lunar Calendar / Chinese Calendar? (Brief introduction)

A lunar calendar is a calendar based upon the monthly cycles of the Moon’s phases. Each lunar month has approximately 29.5 days. So, it is common to have between 29 or 30 days per month in the lunar calendar. A lunar year is only about 354 days. It is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Because of this, approximately every three years (7 times in 19 years), a leap month is added to the Chinese calendar. A leap month is inserted if there are 13 New Moons between the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the next year.

A new moon starts on the first day of the month of the lunar calendar. A full moon can usually be seen between the 15th and 17th of the month.

 

 

Calendars in China, Taiwan

In China or Taiwan, it is common to see a daily calendar or monthly calendar hanging in a house. See the picture below. This is a Republic of China calendar. The picture was taken in Taiwan. 

calendar in Chinese

I have marked the common information on the calendar. How do we read that information? Let’s look at some more details!

  1. 11 月. If you are familiar with what we talked about above, you will know that “11月” means November.  
  2. Monthly calendar. Some of the daily calendar is also in the contents of the monthly calendar. 
  3. 20. This one is obvious. 20th day of November.
  4. 108 年 肖豬 xiào zhū. This is a calendar from Taiwan. 1912 was the first year of the Republic of China. So, 2019 is the 108th year of the Republic of China calendar. xiào is short for 生肖 shēng xiào, which means Chinese zodiac. zhū means pig. The zodiac sign for 2019 is the “Pig”. 
  5. 星期三 xīng qī sān. It is Wednesday.
  6. 宜 yí” and “忌 jì”. In a traditional Chinese calendar, you can usually see these two words “宜 yí” and “忌 jì.” “宜 yí” means lucky or appropriate. There are some activities list next to “宜 yí.” It means it is good to do those activities on this day. On the other hand, “忌 jì” means taboo. You should not do those activities that are listed next to “忌 jì.” Many people still somehow believe in these, especially when they need to decide on a date for an important event, like a wedding, the grand opening for a business or the day of moving into a new house.  
  7. 十月 廿四日 Shí yuè niàn sì rì. 

You may often see these two words on a Chinese calendar: 

廿 (niàn) means 20, twenty.

卅 (sà) means 30, thirty.

Following the same idea:

廿四 niàn sì means 24 twenty-four.

卅一 sà yī means 31 thirty-one.

Both 廿 niàn and 卅 sà are mainly written in rather formal documents. When we say the dates, we still use the casual way. For example, Oct. 24th, we say 十月 二十四日 Shí yuè èrshísì rì.

It may also contain information like the point number 8. Let’s explain the Chinese characters first:

中 zhōng: neither lucky or unlucky

吉 jí: lucky

凶 xiōng: unlucky

The hours that are marked as 吉 jí are considered lucky hours. As we mentioned before, when people are choosing an important date for an important event, they sometimes will even consider the hour. Like the hour when construction starts on a new building, or the hour when a business will begin their grand opening etc. The opposite idea will apply to the hour of 凶 xiōng. Some people believe that by not doing important events on these hours they can avoid bad luck. 

Some of the calendars are given out for free by businesses. They usually print their business information, so people are able to find their contact details pretty easily.

 

 

Chinese Zodiac

Chinese-zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, and each year has an animal to represent it. Because the Chinese zodiac is based on the “lunar calendar”, if you are born in January or February of a given year, you may wish to check your birthday’s corresponding date on the lunar calendar, as it may fall under the prior year.  

 

For instance, February 7th, 2008 is the first day of the Year of the Rat. If someone’s birthday is between Jan. 1st and Feb. 6th, 2008, then his zodiac animal would be a “Pig” and not a “Rat.” 

 

 

What is your zodiac animal? Did you find yours?

 

Time Zones in China and Taiwan

China is a big country. You may wonder how many time zones there are in China. The answer is that currently, there is only one time zone in China and Taiwan, which is UTC+08:00. 

Between the years of 1918 to 1949, there were five time zones within China. After 1949, there was just a single time zone. China and Taiwan are in the same time zone.

The official national standard time in China is called Beijing Time (Chinese: 北京时间 Běijīng shíjiān), and the official national standard time in Taiwan is called National Standard Time (Chinese: 國家標準時間 Guójiā Biāozhǔn Shíjiān).

 

Chinese Holidays

Here are the list of China Public Holidays and the dates in both 2020 and 2021. We also made the infogrpahics for Chinese Public Holidays in both 2020 and 2021 (In China and Taiwan areas)

Please note: we do not talk about politics here. We simply just list the public holidays in both places. 🙂 Enjoy!

2020 Public Holidays in China

Jan 1  New Year’s Day

Jan 24  Chinese New Year’s Eve

Jan 25  Chinese New Year

Jan 26-30  Spring Festival Golden Week Holiday 

Apr 4  Tomb Sweeping Day

May 1  Labour Day

May 2-4  Labour Day Holiday

Jun 1  Children’s Day

Jun 25  Dragon Boat Festival

Jun 26-27  Dragon Boat Festival holiday

Oct 1  National Day

Oct 1  Mid-Autumn Festival

Oct 2-8  National Day Golden Week holiday

 

2021 Public Holidays in China

Jan 1  New Year’s Day

Feb 11  Chinese New Year’s Eve

Feb 12  Chinese New Year’s Day

Feb 13-17  Spring Festival Golden Week Holiday 

Apr 5  Tomb Sweeping Day

May 1  Labour Day

Jun 1  Children’s Day

Jun 14  Dragon Boat Festival

Sep 21  Mid-Autumn Festival

Oct 1  National Day

Oct 2-7  National Day Golden Week Holiday

 

2020 Public Holidays in Taiwan

Jan 1  Republic Day/New Year’s Day

Jan 24  Chinese New Year’s Eve

Jan 25  Chinese New Year’s Day

Jan 26-29  Chinese New Year Holiday

Feb 28  Peace Memorial Day

Apr 4  Tomb Sweeping Day

Apr 4  Children’s Day

Jun 25  Dragon Boat Festival

Oct 1  Mid-Autumn Festival

Oct 10  National Day

 

2021 Public Holidays in Taiwan

Jan 1  Republic Day/New Year’s Day

Feb 11  Chinese New Year’s Eve

Feb 12  Chinese New Year’s Day

Feb 13-16  Chinese New Year Holiday

Feb 28  Peace Memorial Day

Apr 4  Children’s Day

Apr 5  Tomb Sweeping Day

Jun 14  Dragon Boat Festival

Sep 21  Mid-Autumn Festival

Oct 10  National Day

 

2020 Chinese Public Holidays Infographic

 

 

2021 Chinese Public Holidays Infographic

2021 Chinese public holidays

 

 

2 thoughts on “Telling Time in Chinese

  1. Hi Karen,

    I really like your great work, and it helps me a lot when I am preparing the teaching material. And I really appreciate that you created the traditional versions too. Just a little problem I saw from the traditional version of this post. On the right bottom of it, it should be “點”. ^^

    Many thanks!
    Best wishes,
    Beryl

    1. Hi Beryl,

      Thank you for your feedback. I have updated the new one! Please redownload it. And I am glad to know you found our infographics useful. We will keep making more! 🙂

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