Five minutes

How do you, dear Reader, express 8:35? Do you say, "It's thirty-five past eight" or "It's twenty-five to nine?" Whichever one you prefer, let me tell you that Danish and German have found a really convenient way to handle this.

Let's start with 8:30. How do we say this in Danish and German?

Danish: Den er halv ni.

German: Es ist halb neun.

Literally: It is half nine.

Yes, this is quite different from English. Both Danish and German look forward (to 9:00) instead of backward (to 8:00).

Now you try 7:30 for Danish and German by using the structure we just learned.

(Tip: 8 = Danish otte and German acht)

Danish: Den er halv otte.

German: Es ist halb acht.

Literally: It is half eight.

Brava, dear Reader, great job!

Now let's return to our original question of how to express 8:35 in Danish and German.

Danish: Den er fem (minutter) over halv ni.

German: Es ist fuenf (Minuten) nach halb neun.

Literally: It is five (minutes) past half nine.

Confused? Recall that we said that 8:30 is "half to nine" because we look forward. And we additionally add "five (minutes) past" to 8:30, thus getting "five (minutes) past half to nine."

Your turn again. Try 8:25.

(Tip: 9 = Danish ni and German neun, and English to = Danish i and German vor)

Danish: Den er fem (minutter) i halv ni.

German: Es ist fuenf (Minuten) vor halb neun.

Literally: It is five (minutes) to half nine.

Again, wonderful job, dear Reader!

I admit: if this concept is new to you, it may challenge your brain. But after some practice, you'll wish English had it too.

Personally, I use it in German all the time, and I so badly want to use it in English too!

Dr. Daniela Ribitsch originally comes from Graz, Austria. She has lived in the United States since 2009 and teaches German at Lycoming College in Williamsport. She can be reached at