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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How do you ask for the time in Dutch?
Atie: And how do you tell the time?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, during a school break, Sasha Lee asks her classmate Rinke Rover about the time. They don't want to be late for their next class. Sasha asks, "What time is it?"
Sasha Lee: Hoe laat is het?
Sasha Lee: Hoe laat is het?
Rinke Rover: Het is kwart over drie.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: Hoe laat is het?
Michael: "What time is it?"
Rinke Rover: Het is kwart over drie.
Michael: "It's a quarter past three."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will be talking about how to ask for the time and how to tell the time in Dutch. If you are thinking that this will be a simple matter of translating English methods of telling the time into Dutch, I'm afraid you are wrong. Very wrong. The Dutch have, what will seem to English speakers, a very confusing way of telling the time. But don't worry, we are here to help you make sense of it! We'll start by discussing how to ask for the time in Dutch.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue. Do you remember how Sasha Lee says "What time is it?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Sasha Lee: Hoe laat is het?
Michael: The direct translation of this question is "How late is it?" That's the full question. It means "What's the time?" and it's reasonably easy to remember and understand. Now, we are going to get a little more complicated.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Let's take a look at our second sentence. Do you remember how Rinke Rover says "It's a quarter past three?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Rinke Rover: Het is kwart over drie.
Michael: There are some correlations between the way the time is told in Dutch and the way it is told in English. In order to illustrate these and the differences between English and Dutch, let's take a little trip around the clock, starting at the twelve and moving to the right and down, the way a minute hand would. First of all, the Dutch say, for example:
Atie: Het is vier uur,
Michael: meaning "It is four o'clock." This is similar to the English way of telling the time. What I'd like to draw your attention to here is the word
Atie: uur,
Michael: which literally means "hour," but in this context, it means "o'clock." This is a familiar concept for English speakers. The Dutch also talk about "a quarter past" and "a quarter to" which should be familiar to most English speakers. In the dialogue, we learned how to say, "It is a quarter past three":
Atie: Het is kwart over drie.
Michael: Let's break this sentence down a little. We'll start by focusing on the word
Atie: kwart.
Michael: This means "a quarter" in English and, when telling time, it refers to 15 minutes before or after the hour. In the sentence, you just heard, the word for "after" was
Atie: over
Michael: On the other hand, if you want to say that it is a "quarter to" the hour, you can say a sentence like
Atie: Het is kwart voor vier.
Michael: or "It is a quarter to four." I'm sure you would have noticed that the only word that Atie has changed from the previous sentence is:
Atie: voor
Michael: So, naturally, this is the word that means "to" in this sentence.
We've now talked about "o'clock," "a quarter to," and "a quarter past," and I'm afraid that this is where we reach the end of the similarities between telling the time in Dutch and telling the time in English. From this point, things get a little strange for an English speaker.
Probably the most important idea to wrap your head around is the fact that the Dutch use the hour and the half hour to tell the time. In English, the hour is the primary reference point, but, in Dutch, the half hour is just as important. In the Netherlands, the half hour is seen as moving towards the hour and not away from it. For example, an English speaker will talk about "half-past seven," but a Dutch person will say
Atie: Het is half acht.
Michael: or "It is half eight." In other words, they are saying it is half an hour to eight, whereas English speakers would see that time as half an hour after seven. This can lead to great confusion. Imagine if a Dutch person makes an appointment with an English speaker for
Atie: half vier
Michael: The English speaker might well think that they are talking about "half-past four," but they would then be an hour late! The Dutch speaker was talking about "half-past three."
For the next concept, I'd like to ask you to use your imagination and draw a horizontal line on a clock from the three to the nine. Everything above that line is the same in English and Dutch, but, below that line, things are different. In Dutch, once you go below that line, you are either heading towards the half hour or away from it. The hour is no longer your reference point.
Imagine turning the clock upside down so that the six is at the top. Any minute on the left of the six and above the horizontal line would be heading towards the half hour and anything on the right of the six and above the horizontal line is heading away from the half hour. It's exactly the same as the hour, but upside-down. In this way, it is easier to understand how to use it as a reference point in Dutch. Consider how a Dutch person would say "It is twenty-five past six":
Atie: Het is vijf voor half zeven.
Michael: Translated directly, this would be "It is five to half seven." As you can see, the reference point is the half hour and not the hour. This is because we are in the area below that horizontal line that I asked you to imagine. Let's now see what happens when we pass the half hour point and start heading up towards the twelve again.
As I mentioned earlier, according to Dutch thinking, we are now heading away from the half hour. We only start heading towards the hour once we reach the horizontal line at a quarter to. In English, this one means "thirty-five minutes to eight."
Atie: Het is vijf over half negen.
Michael: Directly translated, it means "It is five past half nine." Having reached this point, we've now travelled along the clock face moving to the right and down, from the hour, to the "quarter past" point and, from there to the half hour and just beyond. Let's now go past the "quarter to" point and move above the horizontal line we imagined earlier. We are now moving towards the twelve. If you wanted to say that it is "five to six" in Dutch, you would say
Atie: Het is vijf voor zes.
Michael: This is similar to the English way of telling the time, as you can tell. We have now completed our journey around the clock, but I have more to say about telling time in Dutch.
In the Netherlands, the 24-hour format for telling the time is often used in writing, such as on train tickets or movie tickets. However, most Dutch people use the 12-hour format when speaking. In English, we might have to tell someone that we are talking about the morning or the afternoon by using those words or by saying "PM" or "AM." In Dutch, if you want to tell someone that the time you mentioned is in the morning, you would say
Atie: ‘s morgens
Michael: and if you wanted to tell them that you are talking about a time in the afternoon, you would say
Atie: ‘s middags
Michael: Of course, we can also be more specific in English and Dutch and tell people that the time we mentioned is in the evening
Atie: ‘s avonds
Michael: or at night
Atie: ‘s nachts
Michael: Here is an example, just to make it as clear as possible. This means "It is seven o'clock in the evening.":
Atie: Het is zeven uur ‘s avonds.
Michael: And one more to make it stick:
Atie: Het is half negen 's avonds.
Michael: This means it is eight thirty, or half past eight, but, directly translated, it would be "It is half nine at night."
Knowing these time expressions will help you to avoid misunderstandings!
Michael: In this lesson, we discussed how to ask for and how to tell the time in Dutch. We learned that the Dutch use both the hour and the half hour as reference points. In other words, below the imaginary horizontal line that divides the clock in half, Dutch speakers use the half hour as their reference.
You will need to have some knowledge of Dutch before being able to tell the time. Most importantly, you will need to understand numbers in Dutch, especially numbers from
Atie: nul
Michael: or "zero" to
Atie: negenenvijftig
Michael: or fifty-nine. If you don't know how to do this or you have become a little rusty, you will need to study those or refresh your memory of them.
Other vocabulary that you will need when telling the time are words like
Atie: het uur
Michael: which means "hour," and
Atie: de minuut
Michael: which means "minute." You will also find it useful to know how to say "second"
Atie: de seconde
Michael: We have also not yet talked about how to say "midday" or "noon." It sounds like this in Dutch:
Atie: twaalf uur ‘s middags
Michael: which translates directly to "twelve o' clock midday." "Midnight" is
Atie: twaalf uur ‘s nachts
Michael: or "twelve o'clock at night." You might, at some point, also want to tell someone that you will meet them at "something" o' clock. Let's use four o'clock as an example:
Atie: om vier uur
Michael: "At four o'clock." The word
Atie: om
Michael: means "at," so you are planning to meet at exactly four o' clock. If you are more flexible about the time, and want to meet around four, you can say
Atie: rond vier uur
Michael: "Around four o'clock."
With these words and your new understanding of how to tell the time in Dutch, you should have no problem talking to Dutch people about the time!


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!