Telling the time in Norwegian

'Mellow Time', by Nobmouse, via Flickr

‘Mellow Time’, by Nobmouse, via Flickr

Time in Norwegian uses a mixture of the English and German methods of speaking, which can seem a little confusing at first for new learners. However, with some practice and these helpful tips, you will get up to speed on how to tell the time in Norwegian quickly.

How to ask what time it is in Norwegian

First of all, forget about asking what time it is; Norwegians don’t refer to time in this regard as a thing in and of itself. Instead, start thinking about the clock (“klokken” in Norwegian). Whereas in English a person might ask “what’s the time?”, a Norwegian speaker would ask “What’s the clock?”.

Here are two phrases that will help you. As with all Norwegian words beginning with “Hv”, the ‘h’ in these phrases is silent.

  • Hvor mange er klokken? – What is the time? / How many is the clock?
  • Hva er klokken? – What is the time? / What is the clock?

“Quarter Past” and “quarter to” the hour in Norwegian

When talking about time in relation to specific hours, Norwegian follows the same speech pattern as British English. Where a Brit would say “it’s quarter to two”, so would a Norwegian (“Klokken er kvart på to“).

One thing to note is that when talking about the time, you should start with “Klokken er…”, meaning “the clock is…”. As we discussed earlier, Norwegians refer to the clock where British people would say “the time is…”.

While the use of “” to mean “to” should come as no surprise to people learning Norwegian, using “over” may cause some initial confusion. The Norwegian word “over” usually translates as “of” in English but when we are talking about the time, we use “over” where an English speaker would say “past”.

So, where a British person would say “quarter past three”,  a Norwegian person would say (“Klokken er kvart over tre“, or “The time is quarter of three”. This is one of the occasions where the English/German mix of ways of speaking can cause trouble for native English speakers.

How to Say “Half Past the hour” in Norwegian

When discussing half hours, Norwegian uses the German method rather than the English – they talk about the half hour counting toward the next hour, rather than counting past the previous one. “Half past four” in English is therefore “half to five” in Norwegian (“halv fem“).

A good way of remembering how this works if you’re not a German speaker is to think of it in the same way as decimals are rounded off – you round down to the previous whole number if it’s before the half way point (0.5) and up to the next whole number if it’s half way or after.

The “in between” times in Norwegian

If it’s not a quarter or half of the hour, Norwegian does not refer directly to the hour. Instead, they talk about time in relation to the next half hour. “Twenty-five minutes to seven” in English therefore becomes “five past half to seven” (“Klokken er fem over halv sju“) in Norwegian. It’s a bit of a mouthful at first but with practice you will soon get used to it.

Talking about the time in Norwegian means remembering that for most of the time, the clock looks forward, in contrast to the “half backward, then half forward” method of English; and it also looks to the half hour whereas in English it always looks to the hour. This can confuse at first but practice will solve any quibbles newcomers to the language have.

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