Master the 3 Ways to Tell the Time in Russian


If you are reading this, you probably already know it: it’s not easy to tell the time in Russian.

Let’s be honest: understanding and telling the time is difficult in all foreign languages, but (as usual) the Russians decided to make things even harder and have three ways to tell the time.

And of course, the most common and conversational way to tell the time in Russian is also the hardest one because it really doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before in any other languages.

I’ve been living in Moscow for years and yet, when someone asks me the time, I still happen to look at my watch dazed.

So, I decided to write this post on how to tell the time in Russian and try to clear things ups. As usual, at the end you can download the PDF recap.

Let’s start!

telling the time in russian

Time in Russian: Official version

I want to start with the way of telling the time in Russian that is used, for example, at airports and stations and in many other “official” situations.

And yes, the less common version is also the clearest, because is such situations they don’t want people to misunderstand the schedule.

  • 01:00 – Один час ноль минут
  • 13:10 – Тринадцать часов десять минут
  • 03:15 – Три часа пятнадцать минут
  • 15:20 – Пятнадцать часов двадцать минут
  • 06:30 – Шесть часов тридцать минут
  • 18:41 – Восемнадцать часов сорок одна минута
  • 07:54 – Семь часов пятьдесят четыре минуты

Here you just have to tell the numbers you see, but mind the case!

After 1 you should use the nominative case, from 2 to 4 genitive singular and from 5 to 20 genitive plural. And start again from 21 on.

This applies both to minutes (минута – минуты – минут) and hours in Russian (час – часа – часов).

Simplified version

Let’s move on to the simplified version which is definitely the favorite of us non-native speakers because it’s simple enough to tell the time in Russian in everyday conversations without getting confused.

  • 00:00 – Полночь
  • 12:00 – Полдень
  • 01:00 – Час (ночи)
  • 15:00 – Три часа (дня)
  • 04:10 \ 16:10 – Четыре десять
  • 05:15 \ 17:15 – Пять пятнадцать
  • 06:30 \ 18:30 – Шесть тридцать

Here appear the very convenient forms “midnight” and “midday”. However, there are some details you need to pay attention to!

When the time is o’clock, the word 'hours' is often added after the number (I don’t know if that’s a rule or just the way they speak). As an alternative you can add 'ровно' (o’clock), or 'ноль ноль' (00).

Otherwise, words are omitted in the simplified version and you just tell the time with numbers.

When it’s not clear from the context you should also specify using “утра” (in the morning) “дня” (in the afternoon), “вечера” (in the evening) or “ночи” (in the night) to specify.

And that’s it! We have only one version left, the spooky one.

tell the time in russian

Informal version

The time has come to learn the most conversational and common way to tell the time in Russian, which is also the most confusing one.

Let me try with a metaphor.

Russia has a reputation for being rather warmongering. Whether it’s true or not, the Russians have always been ready to defend or expand their borders.

So in Russian, as soon as the minute hand moves past the 12, it occupies the territory belonging to the next hour!

  • 08:01 / 20:01 – Одна минута девятого
  • 09:10 / 21:10 – Десять минут десятого
  • 10:15 / 22:15 – Пятнадцать минут одиннадцатого / Четверть одиннадцатого
  • 12:30 – Полпервого / Половина первого

Therefore, what in English is said to be “one minute past eight” in Russian is actually “one minute belonging to the ninth hour,” “ten past nine” becomes “ten minutes to the tenth hour” and so on.

And I’m not done yet!

  • 05:40 / 17:40 – Без двадцати шесть
  • 06:45 / 18:45 – Без пятнадцати семь / Без четверти шесть
  • 07:50 / 19:50 – Без десяти восемь

When the minute hand moves past the 30, you start to count the minutes that are missing to reach the following hour, that is “the next hour minus … minutes.

For the informal version you will hear a lot of genitive case – the number after “без” (without), as well as the “occupied” hour that by the way is not expressed with a cardinal number (ten o’clock), but an ordinal one (tenth).

Here also appears a new word: “a quarter,” or “четверть.”

Grammar and common mistakes

1) To ask, “What time is it?” in Russian we say “Который час?” or “Сколько времени?” while the answer will be one of the three variants above.

When we want to ask, “At what time [something happens]?” in Russian we use “Во сколько …?” and the answer will always be the hour (in the accusative case) preceded by the preposition “в.

2) Prepositions and order of words can vary the meaning of the sentence:

  • Я приеду к пяти (I will arrive at ABOUT five o’clock) – preposition 'к' + Russian dative case
  • Это случилось около десяти вечера (it happened AROUND ten in the evening) – preposition 'около' + Russian genitive case.
  • Увидимся в шесть [часов] – See you at six
  • Увилимся часов в шесть – See you around six

Inverting the words gives a sense of approximation.

3) Some people say “half past …” as “… c половиной” (with a half). However, this construction is erroneous, so please avoid saying that.

It does exhist, but should be only used to indicate the duration of an action:

  • Сегодня я спал два часа с половиной – I slept two and a half hours today.

If you say 'Увидимся в два часа с половиной' it’s clear but sounds sloppy. The correct sentences are 'Увидимся в полтретьего' and 'Увидимся в два тридцать.'

4) Do you want to practice time in Russian? Try out this fantastic website!

5) Russia is a huge country and has many time zones. Usually, when something is announced on TV, it is referred to as московское время (Moscow time).

If you talk to some of your friends who live in another country or in a different city, you can simply say “по Москве” or another Russian city in the dative case.

Time in Russian: PDF recap

Here you can download a recap of this post.

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