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Grammar detail: Telling the time in Japanese

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Telling the time in Japanese
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Telling the time in Japanese is quite straightforward and regular.

Hours

To specify the hour, append the counter
to the number.
いちじone o'clock
にじtwo o'clock
さんじthree o'clock
よじfour o'clock
ごじfive o'clock
ろくじsix o'clock
しちじ (ななじ is also OK)seven o'clock
はちじeight o'clock
くじnine o'clock
じゅうじten o'clock
じゅういちじeleven o'clock
じゅうにじtwelve o'clock
Note: to specify the number of hours, we add
かん
meaning 'interval' after the hour. For example:
さんじかん(for) three hours

Minutes

For minutes, we just add the counter
(read as ふん or ぷん following つ or ん).
いっぷんone minute
にふんtwo minutes
さんぷんthree minutes
よんぷんfour minutes
ごふんfive minutes
ろっぷんsix minutes
ななふんseven minutes
はっぷんeight minutes
きゅうふんnine minutes
じっぷんten minutes
じゅういっぷんeleven minutes
Note that is officially read じっぷん. However, じゅっぷん is commonly encountered, and in most situations (except possibly exams!) would not be considered wrong.

Quarter past, half past, quarter to

(hour) +
はんhalf past
(hour) + 15じゅうごふん15 minutes past (can be used as the equivalent of 'quarter past' the hour specified)
(hour) + 45よんじゅうごふん45 minutes past (can be used as the equivalent of 'quarter to (the hour after the one specified)')
(hour) + 15じゅうごふんまえ15 minutes before (can be used as the equivalent of 'quarter to (the hour)', emphasizing the fact that it is not yet the hour specified)
Note that in Japanese, 'half past' is simply 'half'.
In the same way, there is no direct expression for 'quarter past', but rather the Japanese for '15 minutes' is used. In other words, in Japanese, there is nothing 'special' about 15 minutes past compared to say 14 minutes past, and there is no word for 'past'. So for example 'quarter past four' would simply be
よじ
じゅうごふん
(four hours fifteen minutes).
There is no expression for 'quarter to' - the expression translates to '15 minutes before'. Typically, rather than counting *backwards* from the later hour, in Japanese you would count *forwards* from the preceding hour.
For example:
3さんじはんhalf past three
15 よじじゅうごふんfour fifteen = quarter past four
45ろくじよんじゅうごふんsix forty five
715しちじじゅうごふんまえquarter to seven = six forty five

Times of day

あさにin the morning
ごごにin the afternoon
よるにin the evening
しょうごmidday
'In the morning' is typically expressed using に. However, it is also common to say
ごぜんちゅう
に, which means 'during the morning'. The term
ごぜん
に is not incorrect, but less common.
'Midnight' does not have a direct equivalent in Japanese. The term
やはん
is commonly used to mean 'a time somewhere between around 11pm and 1am'. Also commonly used is
まよなか
, which means literally 'the middle of the night', rather than midnight as it is understood in English. To refer specifically to 12 o'clock,
よろじゅうにじ
or
よなか
じゅうにじ
are more commonly used.

Other useful time-related expressions

ですかなんじですかWhat time is it?
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See also:
  • Japanese dates
  • 時(とき) - when
  • 七 and 四 - how to read the kanji for seven and four

Kanji used in this grammar

ジ   とき time, occasion   
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イチ   イツ   ひと    ひと- one   
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ニ   ふた    ふた two   
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サン   み    みっ three   
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シ   four   よ    よ    よっ    よん    
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ゴ   いつ-    いつ five   
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ロク   むっ six   む    むい    む    
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シチ   seven   なな    なな    なの    
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ハチ   や    や    よう eight   
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ク   キュウ   ここの nine   
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ジュウ   ジッ   と    とお ten   
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カン   ケン   あいだ interval, between   ま space, room   
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ブン   ブ   フン   わける to divide, to distinguish   わかる to understand   わかれる to be divided   わかつ to share, distribute   
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ハン   なか half   
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ゼン   まえ before   
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チョウ   あさ morning   
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ゴ    noon   
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ゴ   コウ   のち    あと afterwards   うし behind   おくれる be late   
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ヤ   よる    よ night   
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セイ   ショウ   ただしい correct   ただ to correct   まさ precise, exact   
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チュウ   ジュウ   なか middle   
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シン   truth   ま exactly; deep   
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カ   なに    なん what?   
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