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(see all "20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")
Today we are going out and asking, "What time does the show start?"
Here is the question and answer:
Telling time in Chinese is refreshingly easy and logical. But there are some minor differences from English that could lead to major difficulties, so we are going to keep it as simple as possible. We will focus on the most basic way to express time so that you can know what to listen for when you hear it and so that you can tell time easily. Let’s look at the question.
Notice that the word order is different from English. The event comes first in the sentence, in this case it is the show, 演出(yǎnchū). Next is the “what time” part of the sentence. It is important to know here that 几(jǐ) doesn't mean “what” and 点(diǎn) doesn’t mean “time.” These characters are used to refer to how many “points” or “dots” are indicated by the hands on the clock.
So imagine an old analogue clock with no hour numbers on it, just dots. The hour hand is somewhere over in the 7 o’clock area, but it’s kind of hard to tell. So you start counting the dots. Sure enough you count seven dots. Now the question makes a little more sense: “The show / how many dots / start?” If it is helpful for you, you might even want to remember the translation of this question as, “At what point does the show start?” instead of “What time does the show start?”
The final piece is 开始(kāishǐ) which means “start.” We put “start” at the end of the question in English too, which is convenient. Just as we can replace “the show” with other events, we can also replace “start” with other words: end, open, close, arrive, and leave. We’ll take a look at how to do that later. Now let’s learn how to tell time.
Begin by saying the hour. In our answer we have seven, 七(qī). Next you need to say “dots,” 点(diǎn). Sometimes you’ll hear or see 钟(zhōng) next, which means “clock” but let’s just keep it simple and stick with 点(diǎn). Now we are ready to talk about the minutes in our time. In our time we have 半(bàn) which means “half.”
So the time in our answer is literally “seven and a half dots.” Using “quarter” hours is also very simple. For “quarter after” use 一刻(yí kè), which means “one quarter.” For “quarter of” use 三刻(sān kè), which means “three quarters.”
If you want to be specific about the minutes you can simply say the number of minutes as you would say any other number. So 7:17 would be 七点七十(qī diǎn qīshí). But you need to know two things about expressing minutes.
First, if you have minutes from :01 to :09, you usually say the preceding zero, or 零(ling) in Chinese. So 7:05 would be 七点零五(qī diǎn ling wǔ). Second, it is also common to put 分(fēn) on the end of the sentence to say “minutes.” So 7:05 could also be expressed 七点零五分(qī diǎn ling wǔ fēn). But you never need to use 分(fēn) with half hours and quarter hours. It is only used when you are naming the number of minutes.
Maybe you want to ask about when, but not necessarily about the hour. For example, you might want to ask, “When are you going to China?” In this case you are not expecting the person to answer with a time, but rather some future date. Here Chinese works a lot like English.
The characters for “when” in Chinese are 什么时候(shénme shíhòu) and they mean “what” and “time” respectively. But the 时候(shíhòu) part of this means time in general and isn’t specific to just clock time, therefore the meaning is closer to “when” than to “what time.” So you might be wondering if 什么时候(shénme shíhòu) can replace 几点(jǐ diǎn) in our question above. Well, yes it can.
Yǎnchū jǐ diǎn kāishǐ? What timedoes the show start?
Yǎnchū shénme shíhou kāishǐ? Whendoes the show start?
And now you might be wondering why not just use 什么时候(shénme shíhòu) all the time since it can do 几点(jǐ diǎn)’s job and more. The English translations above illustrate the answer pretty well. It’s important to know how to construct this question with both “what time” and “when” in English. The same goes for Chinese.
But since we are primarily concerned with time in this lesson, 几点(jǐ diǎn) is the most logical option. Also, you need to use 点(diǎn) to tell the time anyway. Plus, it’s easier to say than 什么时候(shénme shíhòu) .
A wee bit more
Many countries, including China, use the 24-hour clock for transportation time and other scheduled events. This is its own source of troubles for Americans who aren’t used to this system. We won’t complicate things by looking at it here. Just know that it works the same way as the patterns above. But it might be helpful to know how to express AM and PM. These are the three times of day that will be used with telling time:
早上 下午 晚上
zǎoshang xiàwǔ wǎnshàng
morning afternoon evening/night
Just add these expressions to at the beginning of the sentence in front of the hour to specify the time of day.
Zǎoshang qī diǎn bàn.
7:30 am (in the morning)
Here are some examples of how to ask questions about time and how to answer. Remember the basics that we covered in our first question and answer, but be aware of the other options that might pop up.
Yǎnchū jǐ diǎn kāishǐ? Qī diǎn yīkè.
What time does the show begin? 7:15
Yǎnchū jǐ diǎn jiéshù? Qī diǎn yībàn.
What time does the show end? 7:30
Shāngdiàn jǐ diǎn kāimén? Qī diǎn sān kè.
What time does the store open? 7:45
Shāngdiàn jǐ diǎn guānmén? Qī diǎn líng qī.
What time does the store close? 7:07
Huǒchē jǐ diǎn zǒu? Qī diǎn zhōng líng qī fēn.
What time does the train leave? 7:07
Huǒchē jǐ diǎn dào? Qī diǎn zhōng sìshíqī fēn.
What time the train arrive? 7:47
Xiànzài jǐ diǎn? Qī diǎn.
What time is it? 7:00
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