Telling Time

In this section you’ll learn the pronunciations of hours and minutes, and how to ask and answer the question “What time is it?”. We’ll also look at learn how to specify intervals and durations of time.

Recommended Background:

Counting in Japanese

Kanji Used in This Lesson

The counters you will learn in this lesson as well as their question word forms are normally written in Kanji, and will be introduced in those forms so that you’ll be able to recognize them.

You’re not expected to learn how to write these Kanji yet, so feel free to use the Hiragana spellings instead. This particular group of Kanji will not be covered until the fourth Kanji lesson.

Time in Hours

Hours of the day are signified with the suffix ~時 (ji), meaning “hour”. This is equivalent to “_ o’clock” in English. Time in hours is frequently written using both the Kanji and the Arabic numerals. You’ll also see them in digital clock form as well – 1:00, 2:00, etc.

Kanji Arabic Pronunciation
一時 1時 いちじ/ichiji
二時 2時 にじ/niji
三時 3時 さんじ /sanji
四時 4時 よじ/yoji (not “yonji”)
五時 5時 ごじ/goji
六時 6時 ろくじ/rokuji
七時 7時 しちじ/shichiji (not “nanaji”)
八時 8時 はちじ/hachiji
九時 9時 くじ/kuji (not “kyuuji”)
十時 10時 じゅうじ/juuji
十一時 11時 じゅういちじ/juuichiji
十二時 12時 じゅうにじ/juuniji

The suffix -ji can be considered a counter, and as with any counter, it is always used with a particular pronunciation of the numbers that have several.

The Japanese equivalents of AM and PM are:

ごぜん gozen before noon
ごご gogo after noon

Simply add these in front of the time in order to specify.

ごぜん 6時 gozen roku-ji 6:00 AM
ごご 6時 gogo roku-ji 6:00 PM

As in English, you can safely omit the gozen/gogo if there’s no chance of ambiguity.

There’s also an easy way to denote half hours in Japanese: with the suffix 半 (han), meaning “half”.

ごご 12時 gogo juuni-ji 12:00 PM
ごご 12時半 gogo juuni-ji han 12:30 PM

When used with other counters, such as 年 (nen) for years, han becomes equivalent to half a unit of that counter.

Finally, note that in Japan as well as many other countries, the 24 hour clock (“military time”) is used much more frequently than in North America. Although the 12 hour system is what you’d use when speaking, Japanese clocks, TV schedules, and train station timetables will generally show time from 00:00-24:00.

Time in Minutes

The corresponding suffix for minutes in Japanese is ~分, pronounced fun or pun.  This is a common occurrence – not only does the form of the number vary, but also the form of the counter.

Kanji Arabic Pronunciation
五分 5分 ごふん/gofun
十分 10分 じゅっぷん/juppun

So while go + fun is unchanged, combining juu + fun causes:

juu -> jup
fun -> pun
juu + fun -> juppun

The same rule applies for larger numbers.

十五分 15分 じゅうごふん/juugofun
二十分 20分 にじゅっぷん/nijuppun
五十五分 55分 ごじゅうごふん/gojuugofun

Although this is fine for now, in case you’d like to know the other numbers, here they are:

Kanji Arabic Pronunciation
一分 1分 いっぷん/ippun
二分 2分 にふん/nifun
三分 3分 さんぷん/sanpun
四分 4分 よんぷん/yonpun
五分 5分 ごふん/gofun
六分 6分 ろっぷん/roppun
七分 7分 ななふん/nanafun
八分 8分 はっぷん/happun
九分 9分 きゅうふん/kyuufun
十分 10分 じゅっぷん/juppun

For larger numbers, only the component directly before the counter affects the pronunciation – the one’s place or juu.

As in English, the minutes simply follow the hours when telling time.

7時10分 しちじ じゅっぷん / shichiji juppun
4時35分 よじ さんじゅうごふん / yoji sanjuugofun
9時50分 くじ 五十分 / kuji gojuppun

That’s all there is to it. The main things you’ll want to watch out when telling time are the irregular pronunciations yoji, shichiji, kuji, and juppun.

The same is true for any counter. Focus your attention on whether you should yon/shi, nana/shichi, and kyuu/ku, and if there are any irregular pronunciations of the number + counter combo. Otherwise, assume that the normal number and unchanged counter are used.

What Time Is It?

Now that you know how to use the numbers, you’re ready to tell time.

いま、何時ですか。 Ima, nan-ji desu ka? What time is it now?

Or more simply,

何時ですか。 Nan-ji desu ka? What time is it?

The response:

~時です。 __-ji desu. It’s __ o’clock.
~時半です。 __-ji han desu. It’s __ thirty.
~時~分です。 __-ji __fun/pun desu. It’s __:__.

So the same Kanji means both “time” and “hours”. Note, however, that there also another word for time, toki, which is written with the same Kanji. It’s this word that is generally used to express the concept of time.

In order to say something is happens at a particle time, you would use the particle に “ni” after the time. Because we haven’t gotten to verbs yet, this use will have to wait for another lesson.

Intervals of Time

In order to specify from what time to what time, you’ll need a couple new particles:

Kana Romaji Meaning
から kara from
まで made to/until

These particles are used both in the sense of time and of space/distance. As with all particles, kara and made follow the times they are attached to.

9時から 10時半まで kuji kara juuji han made from 9:00 to 10:30
3時15分から 4時45分まで sanji juugofun kara
yoji yonjuugofun made
from 3:15 to 4:45

Notice how the particles stand out from the Kanji they follow? This is why I’m using the Kanji even on your first exposure. All Hiragana would be even worse to read than Romaji.

You can say that something is from time X to time Y in Japanese using what you already know.

かいぎは 2時から 4時までです。 Kaigi wa niji kara yoji made desu. The meeting is from 2:00 to 4:00.
おみせは ごぜん7時から ごご九時までです。 O-mise wa gozen shichiji kara gogo kuji made desu. The store is (open) from 7 AM to 9 PM.

You can also use just から or まで, leaving out the unknown or irrelevant portion.

To specify a certain length of time, you must use the suffix ~時間 (jikan) for “hours”, rather than the suffix ~時 (ji), which is only used for the time of day. (The kan in jikan means space or interval.) You can also add han or fun/pun just as before.

1時間 ichi jikan 1 hour
1時間半 ichi jikan han 1 and a half hours
1時間40分 ichi jikan yonjuppun 1 hour and 40 minutes
15分 juugofun 15 minutes

The pronunciations of the numbers preceding –jikan follow the same rules as with -ji.

Durations of time in minutes is sometimes expressed as 分間 (funkan/punkan), but here the kan is optional, and it’s never needed when 分 is accompanying 時間. For durations of time in hours, however, you can never drop the kan.

Although you probably won’t need this use as often, you can also ask for durations of time using 何時間 (nan jikan) and 何分 (nanpun) for hours and minutes respectively.

Time in Seconds

In case you were wondering, the Japanese word for “seconds” is 秒 (byou). This counter is completely regular, using the normal yon, nana, and kyuu. As with 分, it’s completely optional to add kan after byou for durations of time.

New Counters

Kanji/Kana Pronunciation Meaning
~時(じ) -ji __ o’clock (time of day)
~時半(じはん) -ji han __ thirty (time of day)
~時間(じかん) -jikan __ hours
~時間半(じはん) -jikan han __ and a half hours
~半 -han + half an hour
~分(ふん・ぷん) -fun/pun __ minutes

Pronunciations to Remember

4時(間) よじ(かん) yoji(kan)
7時(間) しちじ(かん) shichiji(kan)
9時(間) くじ(かん) kuji(kan)
何時(間) なんじ(かん) nanji(kan)
10分 じゅっぷん juppun
何分 なんぷん nanpun

What Next?

Japanese Adjectives

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