Telling the Time in Russian: The Definitive Guide


What Time is it in Russian

Asking and answering what time is it in Russian is not a trivial task at all! This topic requires knowledge of specific grammar constructions. This is why I gathered all the information to tell about time and put it from the easy to the hard so that every learner could find an option according to his\her level.

How to Ask What Time Is It in Russian?

There are several ways to ask what time is it in Russian, and according to modern dictionaries, all of them are equally correct. You can say:

Russian translation English translation Audio Transcript Where to use
Сколько времени? What time is it?
Skol’-ka vrjе́-mi-ni? Formal/Informal
Который час? What time is it?
Ka-tо́-rij chas? Formal/Informal
Извините, сколько времени? Excuse me, what time is it?
Iz-vi-ni ́-ti, skol’-ka vrjе́-mi-ni? Formal
Извините, который час? Excuse me, what time is it?
Iz-vi-ni ́-ti, ka-tо́-rij chas? Formal

These questions are suitable for formal and informal situations. But when you ask someone you don’t know it is appropriate to begin your question with Извините.

How to Reply

As you see it’s fairly easy to ask what time is it in Russian. However, you can reply to this question in many ways! All require some terminology and grammar. Some of them are very easy, but some require knowledge of complicated constructions.

I tried my best to gather all the options in one place and explain all the grammar so that it can be understood by students of all levels. For your convenience I ranked each type of reply in order of increasing complexity.

What Time is it in Russian

Beginners: #1

The first and easiest way is to name exactly what you see on your smartphone or electronic watch.

  • 11:12одиннадцать двенадцать
  • 16:35шестнадцать тридцать пять
  • 21:17двадцать один семнадцать

At the top of the hour, we don’t say нольноль. Instead, we can add the word ровно before or after the numeral. For example:

  • 12:00двенадцать ровно
  • 08:00восемь ровно
  • 21:00ровно двадцать один

Another thing, that needs to be memorized concerns the time – one o’clock. In Russian, we often change the word один (one) to the word час (an hour) like this:

  • 13:00ровно час
  • 13:15час пятнадцать
  • 01:30час тридцать

Now let me show you several examples from real speech.

  • Во сколько начинается обед? – В час ровно. (- When does the lunchtime begin? – At 1 o’clock sharp)
  • Я обычно встаю в восемь тридцать (I usually wake up at 08:30)
  • Моя смена начинается в двадцать один пятнадцать (My shift starts at 21:15)
  • Я зайду за тобой в одиннадцать десять (I’ll pick you up at 11:10)

As you can see, the easiest way requires a student to know the numerals from 1 to 24, the word ровно (sharp) and the word час (an hour). If you want to check how well you remember them, attempt the following quiz.

Beginners: #2

In the Russian language, we don’t use the terms “a.m.” and “p.m.” Instead, we use the Genitive case to describe a certain time of the day.

What Time is it in Russian. Daytime

So, have a look at your watch, say what you see and specify the day time, like this:

  • 05.30 a.m.пять тридцать утра
  • 08:10 p.m.восемь десять вечера
  • 03:18 a.m.три восемнадцать ночи
  • 02:15 p.m.два пятнадцать (дня)*

*When we talk about day occasions, in most cases we omit the word дня because it follows from the situation that we mean daytime.

This is how these phrases may be used in speech:

  • Он позвонил в пять тридцать утра! (He called me at 5:30 in the morning!)
  • Давай встретимся в шесть вечера (Let’s meet at 6 in the evening)
  • Мы вылетаем в два ночи (We’re flying out at 2 at night)
  • Кино начинается в три пятнадцать (The movie starts at 3:15)

If these words are new to you, memorize them using the following short test.

Beginners: #3

To be super precise about time, you can add the following words:

Russian translation English translation Audio Transcript
Час Hour
Chas
Минута Minute
Mi-nú-ta
Секунда Second
Si-kún-da

The trick is that you need to put the noun into its proper form. By “proper form” I mean the following. In one of my recent articles, I explained that we use different forms of nouns with different numerals. Take, for example, the word год (a year). We say: 1 год, 2 года, but 5 лет. The same happens when we talk about shorter time units.

Different numerals “require” putting nouns after them in Nominative, Genitive singular or Genitive plural. It’s weird, but that is just how the Russian language works. For your convenience, I gathered the forms that you’ll need to talk about time in one table:

Nominative Genitive singular Genitive plural
1, 21 2, 3, 4, 22, 23, 24 5 – 20
Час Часа Часов
Минута Минуты Минут
Секунда Секунды Секунд

Here are some examples that show how it works in practice:

  • Время тестаодин час (nom.) десять минут (gen. pl.) (Time of the test is 1 hour 10 minutes)
  • Сколько времени? – Пять часов (gen. pl.) двадцать одна минута (nom.). (-What time is it? – 5 o’clock 21 minutes).

I think that this grammar part is quite difficult and deserves a special quiz. Have a look at the table above, try to memorize the forms that stand after particular numerals and take the following test.

Intermediate

Very often Russians don’t say exact time but name what hour has started. It’s used in a daily speech frequently, so it’s very useful to have at least a minimal understanding of these expressions.  

First of all, to do that you’ll need to recall what ordinal numbers are. Here is a brief reminder:

First Первый Seventh Седьмой
Second Второй Eighth Восьмой
Third Третий Ninth Девятый
Fourth Четвёртый Tenth Десятый
Fifth Пятый Eleventh Одиннадцатый
Sixth Шестой Twelfth Двенадцатый

So, when you don’t need to be precise, you can say the phrase that would mean something like “the fourth hour is going” Pay attention that this way of saying time may be used only with numerals from 1 to 12. For example:

  • 08:12девятый час (the ninth hour has begun)
  • 15:20четвёртый час (the fourth hour has begun)
  • 12:16первый час (the first hour has begun)

When it’s suitable, we can add a time of the day like it was shown earlier in the 2nd way (утра, дня, вечера, ночи). Here’s how it works in real speech:

  • Еще только второй час, а они уже закрыты. (It’s only 1 o’clock, but they’re closed already)
  • Почему ты не спишь? Уже третий час ночи. (Why aren’t you sleeping? It’s 2 at night already)
  • Еще рано: только шестой час утра. (It’s early, it’s just 5 in the morning).

Please take the following quiz to make sure that you understand this way of replying time questions.

Advanced #1

Ok, we’ve brushed up ordinal numbers. Now let’s take a step further: ordinal numerals may be declined too. For the sake of our main topic, I’m not going to give all declensions of all ordinal numerals. Instead, we’ll have a look only at the categories that are used to reply to the “time” question.

You all know English expressions such as “it’s ten to five”. Now I’ll show you how to express a similar idea in Russian.

To do that we need to put our cardinal numbers from 1 to 29 in the Genitive case, singular. Most of them are formed by replacing ь with и, but 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 you need to learn by heart. In the following table, I show numerals from 1 to 12, but you can easily extend this rule to the rest of the numbers.

Number Nominative Genitive Number Nominative Genitive
One Один Одного Seven Семь Семи
Two Два Двух Eight Восемь Восьми
Three Три Трёх Nine Девять Девяти
Four Четыре Четырёх Ten Десять Десяти
Five Пять Пяти Eleven Одиннадцать Одиннадцати
Six Шесть Шести Twelve Двенадцать Двенадцати
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What Time is it in Russian

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While in the English language we express the time 11:37 by saying “it’s 23 minutes to 12”, in Russian we should use the preposition Без (without): Без двадцати трёх минут (gen.) двенадцать (nom.).

Here’re some more examples:

  • 12:45Без пятнадцати (gen. sin) час (nom.)
  • 15:50Без десяти (gen. sin)  четыре (nom.)
  • 18:40Без двадцати (gen. sin)  семь (nom.)

Now, some examples from daily life:

  • Скорее! Уже без пяти час! (Hurry up! It’s 5 to 1 already!)
  • Кафе открывается без двадцати десять (The cafe opens at 20 to 10)
  • Лекция начинается без пятнадцати три (The lecture begins at 15 to 3)

Advanced #2

If the previous way of saying time was equivalent to the English “to five”, the following one would mean the same as the English “past five”.

Let’s look at this example closely. In the English language, we would express 05:10 like “10 minutes past five” but in Russian we would mean “10 minutes of the sixth (hour): 10 минут шестого.

So, for this type of reply, we’ll need our ordinal numerals from 1 to 12 put in the Genitive case, singular. Some of you probably remember that in this form we just change the ending on ого except for the number 3 where we use его. Like that:

Number Nominative Genitive, singular Number Nominative Genitive, singular
First Первый Первого Seventh Седьмой Седьмого
Second Второй Второго Eighth Восьмой Восьмого
Third Третий Третьего Ninth Девятый Девятого
Fourth Четвёртый Четвёртого Tenth Десятый Десятого
Fifth Пятый Пятого Eleventh Одиннадцатый Одиннадцатого
Sixth Шестой Шестого Twelfth Двенадцатый Двенадцатого
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What Time is it in Russian?

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Once again, we need this table to say the phrase, that would mean, for example, that it has passed 3 minutes to the (next) eighth hour: три минуты (nom.) восьмого (gen. sin.).

Here’re some other examples:

  • 02:01одна минута (nom.) третьего(gen. sin)
  • 04:18восемнадцать минут (nom.) пятого (gen. sin)
  • 07:02две минуты (nom.) восьмого (gen. sin)

And don’t forget to put the noun минута after the cardinal numeral in a proper form as it was shown in Beginners #3.

If I had to learn this sentence construction, I would represent it as the following formula:

What Time is it in Russian

Now, let me show you some examples that you can hear in daily speech.

  • Сколько времени? – Пятнадцать минут шестого (- What time is it? -It’s 15 past 5)
  • Который час? – Три минуты второго (- What time is it? -It’s 3 past 1)
  • Кино начинается в двадцать минут седьмого (The movie begins at 20 past 6)

Special Time Words in Russian

In the Russian language, we have special time expressions, such as a quarter, a half and so on. In the next couple of passages, I’ll show how you can use them in your speech.

Beginning

When the hour has just begun and the minute hand is somewhere between 00 and 15 and there’s no need to be precise, you can use the word начало (beginning). In this construction, we use ordinal numbers in Genitive singular as it was shown in Advanced #2.

  • 12:02начало первого (it’s a beginning of the next, first hour)
  • 16:06начало пятого (it’s a beginning of the next, fifth hour)
  • 19:12начало восьмого (it’s a beginning of the next, eighth hour)

A Half

When we see exactly 30 minutes, for example, 12:30, we dont say без тридцати час or тридцать минут первого. As in English, we have a special word for that, which means “a half” половина. Its’ reduced form – пол merges with the next word. In this construction, we also use ordinal numbers in Genitive singular.  

It looks messy at first, but the following examples will help you to grasp the idea.

  • 08:30Половина девятого (gen. sin) or полдевятого (gen. sin)
  • 12:30Половина первого (gen. sin) or полпервого (gen. sin)
  • 16:30Половина пятого (gen. sin) or полпятого (gen. sin)

Did you notice the difference between the Russian and the English version? To say 02:30 English-speakers would address to “two”: it’s half past 2”, while in the Russian language we’ll address to the next hour половина третьего.

This is how such phrases may look in life speech:

  • Уже половина девятого, пошли домой (It’s half past 8 already, let’s go home)
  • Ты видел, который час? Полтретьего ночи! (Have you seen what time is it? It’s half past 2 at night!)
  • Который час? – Полвосьмого (-What time is it? -It’s half past 7)

Yes, that is a very hard model, but I hope, if you take the next quiz, it will become more understandable.

A Quarter

In the Russian language, we also have an equivalent to the word “a quarterчетверть. This word may be used both to express the idea “its a quarter past ” (see way #6) and “its a quarter to” (see way #5):

  • 17:15Четверть шестого (it’s a quarter of the sixth hour)
  • 22:15Четверть одиннадцатого (it’s a quarter of the eleventh hour)
  • 08:45Без четверти девять (it’s a quarter to nine)
  • 12:45Без четверти час (it’s a quarter to one)

With this article, I hoped to give you comprehensive information about rules and grammar structures that we use when we talk about time. I really hope that it will help you in your learning process. If you have any further questions I would be very glad to answer them or receive any other related comments!

Helpful resources:

As I’ve finished this article I discovered some pages that might be also helpful to you. For example, there’re some audio materials for beginners or tasks that you can use to say about hours and minutes in Russian. You can also have a look at idioms and expressions with the word время (time)

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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