Mastering the times of the day in German
Published on December 11, 2023 / Updated on January 9, 2024
Throughout a typical 24-hour cycle in Germany, you will find consistent cause to refer to different times of the day in German. When do you need to get up? When will you go to work, or plan to meet up with friends?
From ancient times to today, daylight has influenced the daily structure of events in Germany and elsewhere across the globe. Understandably, words describing concepts like “day” and “night” are vital in discussions and planning. If you’re keen on mastering time expressions (or just getting around) in German, keep reading.
To make the most of valuable daylight, it’s best to be mindful of how quickly time slips away. This isn’t a principle limited to efficiency-minded Germans; across various cultures and languages, the day is typically divided into distinct time intervals. In German, these are:
While these German time expressions highlight the general parts of the day, there are also words to pinpoint a more precise time without relying on a clock:
|dawn, dusk, twilight
|early morning, dawn
|der frühe Vormittag
|early morning (but after 10:00)
Time is an important matter and even absolute beginners will have to talk about it. Let’s learn about general time phrases like nachmittags (afternoon) and practice talking about specific times of the day.
Indefinite time expressions are vague time references without specific details. Examples in English include “sometimes,” “often” and “rarely.” You can also point to a time of the day (or, rather, a day) without specifying the day itself:
Note: Die Nacht (night) is feminine, but uses the male form of the indefinite article in indefinite time expressions:
Definite time expressions without prepositions pinpoint a specific time without additional location indicators. Instead, they are accompanied by an adjective narrowing down the point of time:
Definite time expressions without prepositions are in the accusative.
Definite time expressions with prepositions provide specific details about when an action occurs by using additional location indicators. Don’t forget to choose the grammatical case of the time of the day according to the preposition:
An (at), in (at/during), vor (before), seit (since), nach (after) + dative:
Note: An (at), in (at/during) and vor (before) are so-called two-way prepositions that can take the dative or the accusative. With time expressions, they always take the dative.
Gegen (towards), für, um + accusative:
Während (during) + genitive:
If you have to give a lot of information in one sentence involving a general time, a definite time and a place, remember this: Time before place, and general time before specific time! For example:
German, much like English, employs distinct words for various times of the day.
Understanding both indefinite and definite time expressions is key for understanding what is happening when. For instance, Heute Morgen denotes “this morning” in German, while morgens means “every morning.”
If you need some extra motivation to master these nuances, think about this: Would you rather get up early just this morning, or every morning?