Grammar · Vocabulary

Telling Time in Russian

Time is very important. It’s what clocks measure. It’s what keeps everything from happening at once. Without time, everything would be chaotic and crazy!

You already know how to tell time in English. But what about in Russian? That’s what we’re going to learn about today :). So if you don’t know how to tell time in Russian, continue reading. And if you do — why not just refresh that knowledge?

Asking the time

To ask what time it is, there are two main phrases you can use.

Кото́рый час? What time is it?

This phrase is more formal and official.

Ско́лько вре́мени? What time is it?

This phrase is more colloquial and conversational. You will hear it more often. You may even hear Ско́лько сейча́с вре́мени? “What time is it now?”

24-hour or 12-hour?

You may have a big question… Do Russians tell time with 12 hours or 24? In the United States, the 12-hour clock is dominant in both formal and conversational speech. But in Russia, the 12-hour clock is common in conversational speech, while the 24-hour clock is used for official purposes — and almost always dominant when written.

When using the 12-hour clock, Russians do not say “am” or “pm”, they instead say:

утра́ (of the morning) for 5 am – noon
дня (of the day) for noon – 5 pm
ве́чера (of the evening) for 5 pm – midnight
но́чи (of the night) for midnight – 5 am

So 10 PM may be said as:

два́дцать два часа́ “Twenty-two hours” (24-hour, official)
де́сять часо́в ве́чера “Ten in the evening” (12-hour, conversational)

Oh, and you should know that Russians use a period (.) instead of a colon (:) when they write time. So, 10:00 is written as 10.00.

If you’re a newbie with Russian, you might be wondering “Why does часа come after 22, but часов comes after 10?!” This will be explained shortly :).

Telling time on the hour

Okay, we’ll start with the easy stuff: telling time on the hour (i.e. It is two o’clock). This is done with a fairly simple equation: NUMBER + ЧАС (hour).

Два часа́. “(It is) two o’clock.”

Russia is very special when it comes to numbers. Nouns change their endings when they come after certain numbers. Earlier you saw двадцать два часа and десять часов. Why is this? This is because the genitive singular form (часа́) is used with numbers 2-4, while the genitive plural form (часо́в) is used with numbers 5+. The LAST number is used to determine the ending of the noun, that’s why двадцать два (22) uses часа…двадцать (20) would simply use часов and двадцать один (21) would use час.

In official time (24-hour system), ‘час’ is often omitted and ‘ноль’ is used to express zero. So 18.00 could be read as восемна́дцать ноль ноль. Also, ‘часо́в’ is used after ‘ноль’ when it used to represent midnight, so 0.00 would be read as ноль часо́в.

We’re going to focus on conversational time telling for the rest of the post. And with that, here are all of the full hours expressed with time of day :). Continue reading to learn about adding minutes!

English Russian
12:00 midnight Двена́дцать часо́в но́чи. or По́лночь. (midnight)
1:00 a.m. Час но́чи.
2:00 a.m. Два часа́ но́чи.
3:00 a.m. Три часа́ но́чи.
4:00 a.m. Четы́ре часа́ но́чи.
5:00 a.m. Пять часо́в утра́.
6:00 a.m. Шесть часо́в утра́.
7:00 a.m. Семь часо́в утра́.
8:00 a.m. Во́семь часо́в утра́.
9:00 a.m. Де́вять часо́в утра́.
10:00 a.m. Де́сять часо́в утра́.
11:00 a.m. Оди́ннадцать часо́в утра́.
12:00 noon Двена́дцать часо́в дня. or По́лдень. (midday)
1:00 p.m. Час дня.
2:00 p.m. Два часа́ дня.
3:00 p.m. Три часа́ дня.
4:00 p.m. Четы́ре часа́ дня.
5:00 p.m. Пять часо́в ве́чера.
6:00 p.m. Шесть часо́в ве́чера.
7:00 p.m. Семь часо́в ве́чера.
8:00 p.m. Во́семь часо́в ве́чера.
9:00 p.m. Де́вять часо́в ве́чера.
10:00 p.m. Де́сять часо́в ве́чера.
11:00 p.m. Оди́ннадцать часо́в ве́чера.

Telling exact time

When adding minutes to the hour, things get a little more complicated.

Time that falls in the first half of the hour (e.g. 1:01-1:30) is expressed with the minutes followed by an ordinal number in the genitive case that represents the next hour. Therefore, 1:05 is understood as Five minutes of the second hour: Пять мину́т второ́го.

12:00-1:00 is the first hour (первый час), 1:00-2:00 is the second hour (второй час), and so on so forth.

15 minutes may be said as пятна́дцать мину́т (15 minutes) or че́тверть (quarter).
30 minutes may be said as полови́на (half), or пол- affixed to the ordinal number, i.e. полпя́того “4:30, half of the fifth”

You should keep in mind that the noun мину́та changes its endings too, just like час does. It becomes мину́ты after numbers 2-4 and мину́т after numbers 5+.

Here are some more examples of telling time in the first half of the hour:

12.01 одна́ мину́та пе́рвого
1.02 две мину́ты второ́го
2.05 пять мину́т тре́тьего
3.15 пятна́дцать мину́т четвёртого or че́тверть четвёртого
4.30 полови́на пя́того or полпя́того

Here are genitive forms of the ordinal numbers: (1st-12th)

Nominative Genitive
1st пе́рвый пе́рвого
2nd второ́й второ́го
3rd тре́тий тре́тьего
4th четвёртый четвёртого
5th пя́тый пя́того
6th шесто́й шесто́го
7th седьмо́й седьмо́го
8th восьмо́й восьмо́го
9th девя́тый девя́того
10th деся́тый деся́того
11th оди́ннадцатый оди́ннадцатого
12th двена́дцатый двена́дцатого

Time that falls in the second half of the hour (e.g. 1:31-1:59) is expressed with the preposition ‘без’ (without) followed by the minutes remaining to the next hour. Therefore, 2:55 is understood as Five minutes until three: без пяти́ (мину́т) три. The noun ‘минута’ may be omitted completely. Also note that the numbers followed by ‘без’ (without) must be in the genitive case.

12.31 без двадцати́ девяти́ (мину́т) час
1.40 без двадцати́ (мину́т) два
2.45 без че́тверти три
3.55 без пяти́ четы́ре
4.59 без одно́й (мину́ты) пять

Here are the genitive forms of the cardinal numbers: (Use ‘мину́ты’ for 1 and ‘мину́т’ for all the rest)

1 одно́й (мину́ты)
2 двух
3 трёх
4 четырёх
5 пяти́
6 шести́
7 семи́
8 восьми́
9 девяти́
10 десяти́
11 оди́ннадцати
12 двена́дцати
13 трина́дцати
14 четы́рнадцати
15 пятна́дцати
16 шестна́дцати
17 семна́дцати
18 восемна́дцати
19 девятна́дцати
20 двадцати́
21 двадцати́ одно́й
25 дведцати́ пяти́
29 двадцати́ девяти́

At a time

To express “at a time”, you use the preposition ‘в’ or nothing at all.

You use ‘в’ + accusative for whole hours:

Она́ позвони́ла в три часа́ но́чи. She called at 3 a.m.

You may use ‘в’ + accusative for up to the first half of the hour (optional):

Она́ позвони́ла (в) пять мину́т четвёртого. She called at 3:05.

You do not use ‘в’ for the second half of the hour:

Она́ позвони́ла без пяти́ три. She called at 2:55.

You use ‘в’ + prepositional for half-past (полови́на):

Она́ позвони́ла в полови́не четвёртого. She called at 3:30.

9 thoughts on “Telling Time in Russian

  1. Could you make a English-equivalent word in the Roman Alphabet next to the Russian words please? I am still learning the alphabet and it would be so much easier this way. Thanks! 🙂

      1. Could not agree more. I used Rosetta Stone off and on for 3-4 years and it was very hard. I didn’t realize they had the alphabet there. My wife, a native Russian speaker, told me to learn the alphabet first. As soon as I did, it made EVERYTHING much easier. In Russian, unlike English, most every letter you see in a word is pronounced … not always, but mostly. So if you approach it that way, you have a good start on pronunciation. I’ve been living in Russia 6 months now, and I can read-say almost everything. I know very little Russian, but being familiar with the sounds, when people tell me the name of a metro station, for example, I can easily look at a sign and find it.

        EXCELLENT blog … thanks.

      2. Exactly. It is very hard in the the beginning to immerse yourself in a totally new alphabet, but definitely worth it in the long run. I recommend learning about the alphabet and phonology (pronunciation and rules dealing with it) before you worry about conversation, vocabulary or grammar. Never allow yourself to read “Romanized” Russian words like ‘Zdravstvuyte’ or ‘Kak dela?’ Unless you’re not serious about learning Russian.

  2. Really nice, but I am confused. In the example you say: “Therefore, 1:55 is understood as Five minutes until three: без пяти́ (мину́т) три.”

    As if you were taking things like in the first half 1:00 – 2:00 that’s the second hours. Right?

  3. I’m so glad you add the stress marks to all the Russian words. Makes it so much easier to learn the correct pronunciation without audio. Thanks!

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