который час?

There are two common ways of asking “What time is it?” in Russian: «Который час?» (literally, “Which hour?”) and «Сколько времени?» (“How much time?”). When I were a lad, they taught us in school that the correct way is the first one, even though it may sound a bit old-fashioned now.

But, as we know, it is not enough to ask: it also could be nice to know what the answer means. There are a few curious things about telling time in Russian. One is, both cardinal and ordinal numbers are used: cf. «десять часов» (ten o’clock) and «десятый час» (the tenth hour). Another is, the ordinal number H+1th is used to name the hour between H:00 and H:59. For example, «десятый час» (10th hour) means any time between 9 and 10 o’clock. We use exactly the same logic when we give the name 20th century to the 19xx years. Yet I found that both English and Spanish speakers get confused with “Russian” way of naming hours.

In her memoirs, the Russian writer Teffi describes the dialogue between entrepreneur Guskin (Гуськин) and herself:

— Ну конечно. Новое дело. Опоздали на вокзал!
— Быть не может! Который же час?
— Семь часов, десятый. Поезд в десять. Все кончено.

Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

Guskin is so worried that they would miss the ten o’clock train that he runs to Teffi’s place at seven o’clock in the morning. Him saying «Семь часов, десятый» (when for anyone else it is only восьмой) adds to the comic effect.

Nine o’clock is девять часов. If we want to be precise, we say «девять часов ровно», “nine o’clock sharp”. We can safely drop the word час when it is clear that we talk about time:

— Сейчас ровно девять.

There are also two ways of telling hours and minutes. One is completely straightforward: 9:10 is «девять часов десять минут» (nine hours ten minutes). This is the “official” way of telling time, such as you can hear on the radio. The cardinal numerals for both hours and minutes are in nominative; the nouns час and минута, when in plural, change to genitive or accusative, as discussed elsewhere.

Another one is shorter but potentially confusing: «десять минут десятого», literally “ten minutes of the tenth” [1]. Here the cardinal numeral (minutes) remains in nominative but the ordinal one (hour) is in genitive. Which is kind of logical as these minutes belong to that hour.

For any number of minutes M between H:00 and H:30 we can use the “short” formula «M минут H+1-го». For 15 minutes, there is a special name, четверть (quarter), and for 30 minutes, половина (half). So 9:15 is четверть десятого, “quarter of the tenth”, and 9:30 is половина десятого, or полдесятого, “half of the tenth”. The German speakers will have no difficulties dealing with it, as they use halb zehn, “half of ten” for 9:30. However, in Spanish the same time will be las nueve y media “the nine and a half”, while in English we use “half past nine” (Brits say just “half nine”).

After H:30, the “long” way remains the same but for the “short” way we have to count backward from our “target” hour, H+1. So, 9:40 will be “long” «девять часов сорок минут» (nine hours forty minutes), or “short” «без двадцати минут десять» (ten without twenty minutes). Between H:30 and H+1:00, mentioning минуты is optional, so most people will just say «без двадцати десять» (ten without twenty). This is very similar to Spanish las diez menos veinte and, indeed, English “twenty to ten”. Of course, 9:45 will be «без четверти десять» (ten without quarter). Curiously, now the target hour is in nominative but the minutes are in genitive (the preposition без invariably requires the genitive).

When the hour is already known from the context, one can dispose of naming the hour and only talk about minutes:

Я должен прийти к девяти <часам>
На работу свою.
Но сейчас уже без десяти <девять часов>,
А я только встаю.

The “short” way of telling time exists only between one and twelve (0 < H < 11), so in case of ambiguity we have to indicate the time of the day: утро (morning), день (noon or afternoon), вечер (evening) or ночь (night), once again, in genitive. For example, 09:00 is девять часов утра (nine in the morning), 12:00 — двенадцать часов дня (twelve noon), 15:00 — три часа дня (three in the afternoon), 21:00 — девять часов вечера (nine in the evening), 24:00 — двенадцать часов ночи (twelve o’clock at night), 03:00 — три часа ночи (three in the morning). 12:00 is also known as полдень (midday) and 24:00 as полночь (midnight); the time after midday and after midnight could be specified with (sounding a bit archaic) пополудни and пополуночи, respectively. In all “short” time expressions the words часа/часов are optional, so we can say четыре утра, двенадцать ночи and so on. For one o’clock, however, the word час is obligatory; on the contrary, the word один (one) is not used. Thus 01:00 is «час ночи» and 13:00 is «час дня».

Russian English Spanish
час one o’clock la una
два часа two o’clock las dos
(ровно) девять часов nine o’clock (sharp) las nueve (en punto)
девять часов утра nine in the morning las nueve de la mañana
двенадцать часов дня; полдень twelve noon; midday las doce de la mañana; mediodía
три часа дня; три часа пополудни three in the afternoon las tres de la tarde
девять часов вечера nine in the evening las nueve de la tarde
двенадцать часов ночи; полночь twelve in the night; midnight las doce de la noche; medianoche
три часа ночи; три часа пополуночи three in the morning las tres de la madrugada
четверть четвёртого quarter past three las tres y cuarto
половина четвёртого half (past) three las tres y media
без четверти четыре quarter to four las cuatro menos cuarto

Everybody who lived in Soviet Union should remember the standard message broadcast daily at 15:00 Moscow Time on the radio:

Передаём сигналы точного времени. Начало шестого сигнала соответствует пятнадцати часам московского времени. [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, Beeeeeep!] Говорит Москва. В столице пятнадцать часов, в Ашхабаде — шестнадцать, в Ташкенте — семнадцать, в Караганде — восемнадцать, в Красноярске — девятнадцать, в Иркутске — двадцать, в Чите — двадцать один, во Владивостоке и Хабаровске — двадцать два, в Южно-Сахалинске — двадцать три, в Петропавловске-Камчатском — полночь [2].

In this famous message, the names of the cities of the former USSR where the times were listed are given in prepositional case (предложный падеж) and preceded by в (in), therefore Караганда → в Караганде, Владивосток → во Владивостоке, etc. while the numeral (or, in case of полночь, a noun) is in nominative.

To indicate at which time or when something is happening, we also use the preposition в (variously translated as “at”, “on” or “in”). This time, however, в requires accusative case. Luckily, for masculine inanimate noun such as час, that means no change of form from nominative, so there won’t be any change in the expressions of time discussed above, e.g. три часа дня → в три часа дня.

o’clock preposition numeral noun
1 в один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
2 в два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
3–4 в три, четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s
5–20 в пять — двадцать часов
Acc Gen / m / pl
21 в двадцать один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
22 в двадцать два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
23–24 в двадцать три, двадцать четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s

Let’s see what’s happening with feminine nouns such as минута, четверть and половина:

minutes preposition numeral noun
1, 21, 31, 41, 51 в (x) одну минуту
Acc / f Acc / f / s
2, 22, 32, 42, 52 в (x) две минуты
Acc / f Acc / f / pl
3, 4, 23, 24, 33, 34, 43, 44, 53, 54 в (x) три, (x) четыре минуты
Acc Acc / f / pl
the rest в пять, шесть, etc. минут
Acc Gen / f / pl
quarter в одну четверть
Acc / f Acc / f / s
half в одну половину
Acc / f Acc / f / s
1, 21 без (двадцати) одной минуты
Gen / f Gen / f / s
the rest без двух, трёх, четырёх, etc. минут
Gen Gen / f / pl
quarter без одной четверти
Gen / f Gen / f / s

Now we can combine the hours with minutes: в одну минуту первого; в два часа двадцать две минуты; в четверть четвёртого; в десять часов десять минут; в половину одиннадцатого (or пол-одиннадцатого); (в) без пяти пять; (в) без одной двенадцать and so on [3].

Can we use в together with expressions like «десятый час»? Yes we can, but here we have to use yet another case, and a rather unusual one: locative (местный падеж). By now the Russian locative has almost completely merged with prepositional case, however there is a group of nouns where one can see the differences in declension between prepositional proper and locative after the prepositions в and на. So, первый час → в первом часу, второй час → во втором часу etc.

Днём,
Во втором часу,
Заблудилась
Принцесса в лесу.

Генрих Сапгир, «Принцесса и Людоед»

To set the boundaries of a period of time, we use prepositions с or от (“from”, “since”) and до (“to”, “till”), all followed by genitive, for instance: «у меня классы с десяти до полвторого» (I have classes from ten to half past one).

«Игра на музыкальных инструментах от 5 часов дня до 7 часов утра воспрещается».

Вопросы любви и смерти не волновали Ипполита Матвеевича Воробьянинова, хотя этими вопросами по роду своей службы он ведал с девяти утра до пяти вечера ежедневно с получасовым перерывом для завтрака.

__________________________________________________

  1. They never say «десять минут десятого часа», “ten minutes of the tenth hour”.
  2. By some reason, time for the last city on the list was given as «полночь» rather than more formal «ноль часов» (zero hours). As most Soviet citizens were reminded that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky even exists only at this particular time, the city acquired a joking reputation of a place of eternal midnight.
  3. The combination of prepositions в без sounds rather awkward; here в can be omitted without any change of meaning.

See also: ¿Qué hora es?

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2 Responses to который час?

  1. Pingback: в январе, первого апреля | sólo algunas palabras

  2. Pingback: where? | sólo algunas palabras

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