To tell the time in Chinese you need to know a few key vocab words.
This is how I do it, but it may not be correct. 

diǎn 点 : Hour (practically a measure word) 
zhōng 钟 : Clock 


点 liǎng diǎn: 2 o'clock
十一 点  shí yī diǎn zhōng : 11 o'clock 

This is how I tell the time, I don't normally bother with 'zhōng.' 
一点 : 1:00
两点 : 2:00
三点 : 3:00
四点 : 4:00
五点 : 5:00        etc....

Okay! So next we need the following vocab for the next sentences. 

fēn 分  : Minute
kè  刻  : 'Quarter of an hour'


五点五分 wǔ diǎn wǔ fēn : 5:05
五点二十 wǔ diǎn èr shí fēn : Twenty minutes past 5. 

I never add 'fēn' when saying the time, but I add it when writing the time down. 

三点五十(分) sān diǎn wǔ shí (fēn) : Three fifty. 
Again, fen is preference. 

三点一刻  sān diǎn yī kè : A quarter past three. 
两点三刻  liǎng diǎn sān kè : A quarter to three. 

It took me quite awhile to figure out the the number before kè meant the number of quarters in the current hour.

                                3:15 = yi ke 
                                2:45 = san ke

Update! But I have also learnt that you don't need to use 'ke' when telling the time, just use fen (分) instead.

Okay! So next we need the following vocab: 

半 bàn : Half 

Bàn always comes after diǎn

两点半     liǎng diǎn bàn : Half past 2. 
一点半    yī diǎn bàn :       Half past 1 
三点半    sān diǎn bàn :    Half past 3    etc...

So there are a few simple words and structures for telling the time in Chinese.

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Tags: Telling, basics, beginner, chinese, clock, clocks, language, learn, mandarin, tell, More…tell time in Chinese, the, time, vocabulary, words


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Comment by JayLatarche on May 13, 2011 at 8:45pm
Awesome, thanks for explaining that! I find it quite hard to figure out what words are actually used day to day in chinese. And which ones are just formal sentences and words in books. I will update the post.

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Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on May 13, 2011 at 8:07pm

@DK: In Chinese if you want to say 3:45, there are two ways: one, 3 diǎn 45(fēn) just like Jade told; Two, chà(差) 15 fēn 4 diǎn.


Another example: 2:55, we can say 差5分3点(chà 5 fēn 3 diǎn)


Actually we don't usually use 刻 in our normal life.

Hope this helps!

Comment by JayLatarche on May 12, 2011 at 11:19pm
San1 diǎn sān kè. 
That is quarter to 4.
Comment by DK 大牛 on May 12, 2011 at 10:50pm
How about a quarter to? Instead of 3:45, how would I say, a quarter to 4?

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