What time is it?

Time”, such a small word but with such a great importance to our everyday life. Everything revolves around it: every moment, every minute we take is just a little step to see how we decide to organize our daily life. We always live as if our time is running out, which in a way is right, but sometimes we should just take it slow and enjoy every moment totally.

So we tend to plan our day, we have some sort of agenda where we organize our daily routine and especially the hour related to each specific appointment or errand. But how do we say «What time is it?» and how do we answer to this question in Italian, Spanish, English, Portuguese and Norwegian?

First of all, the idea of this whole article came up when the other day I happened to listen a Norwegian who actually cut the whole proper way to say the hour, and I asked myself: “Is that possible?”, but after thinking about the way he should have said it, I kind of understood why he decided to omit the whole thing, it actually takes too long to say it in his language! Before we analyze the Norwegian way of asking the hour in this particular language, let’s see how it is said in the others. I start then with the Italian way:

In Italian we ask “Che ore sono?” (we use the plural form to ask in which part of the day we are). We answer “Sono le undici” (it is eleven o’ clock), “e’ l’ una” (it is one o’ clock), here we use the singular form, but just for the number one; for the rest of numbers we use the plural form. The hour can be said in both digital and analog. But in this article I will focus on the analog one, just because it is where we use more words in the sentence: “sono le undici e venti!” (it is twenty past eleven) or “sono le tre meno un quarto!” (it is a quarter to three).

In Spanish they ask “Que hora es?” or “Que horas son?”, both forms, singular and plural. The answer will be always in plural, except for the number one, like in Italian, that will be said in a singular form. “Son las quince y veinticinco” (it is twenty-five past three pm), “son las cuatro menos cinco” (it is five to four), etc. On the right side of the clock they use “y” (and) and on the left side “menos”(less). See the examples above.

In English they ask “What time is it?” and they answer “It is twelve o’ clock”, “It is ten to ten!”, just the singular form is used here. The thing to remember in English for saying the hour is that on the right side of the clock you say “past”, f. ex. “it is a quarter past three” while on the left side it is “to”, f. ex. “it is twenty to four!”, etc.

In Portuguese it works like in Spanish, so they say “Que hora é?” or “Que horas são?” and they answer: “São as cinco para once” or “E’ a uma e cinco”. But It is used “para” to say “to” (left side of the clock) and “e” to say “past” (right side of the clock).

At last let’s analyze the Norwegian way and its distinction to the other languages which lead me to this article : they ask “Hva er klokken?” and the answer is very difficult, because for the first quarter on the right side of the clock they say f. ex.: “Det er fem tjue” (It is five twenty) and for the last quarter they say f. ex.: “Det er kvart på fire” (It is a quarter to four). The problem, at least for us immigrants comes when we have to say hours such as “Det er ti/fem på halv ett” which means “It is ten/five minutes to the half hour to one” (I used a literal translation, but actually “it’s twelve twenty/twenty-five”) and this just for the right side of the clock. On the other side they say “ Det er fem/ti over halv tre”, which means “It is five/ten minutes past the half hour to three” (here too, I used a literal translation which actually is “twenty/twenty-five minutes to three”).

Explained all this, if I recall the sentence that I heard that guy say at the beginning of this article, which is : “Er det ti over?”( He asked: “Is it twenty to…?”), it is definitely a big cut!!!

He should have said: “Er klokken ti over halv elleve?” (Is it twenty to eleven?”).

Sometimes I do question myself why people like to complicate their lives? But at the end what is complicated and “strange” for some people might be simple and easy for others. All it takes its time to memorize how a certain thing works. And I like it!


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