Learning how to tell time in Korean has several benefits. Conversationally, knowing how to communicate what time it is in Korean will allow you to have a way of telling friends and other counterparts about the events in your day or help you organize get-togethers and other social gatherings.
However, telling time in Korean is not the most straightforward process due to their being both formal and informal manners of doing so. Even though the Korean time zone is ahead of the rest of the world, the manners of saying thank you in Korean and being polite don’t change! Read further to learn more about Korean vocabulary for telling time, the informal and formal manners of doing so, and more!
This article will also feature some multiple choice quizzes to test how well you pick up on any new vocabulary phrases. (PS. all the answers are at the end of this article)
Time / Sigag / 시각
Counting in Korean
To better understand how to communicate the Korean time and how to answer the question above, it is important that as a learner of Korean you become familiar with the basic steps in any language, such as learning the Korean alphabet or the numbers. There are two Korean numbering systems in the language, the Native Korean numbering system and the Sino-Korean numbering systems serve different purposes in telling the time.
The Native Korean numbering system is the original dialect of Korean. It is used for counting the hours when telling the time, with the suffix 시 or si which acts like the English o’clock. Here’s a chart for counting in Native Korean from 1 to 10.
One / Ha-na /하나
Two / Dul / 둘
Three / Set /셋
Four / Net / 넷
Five / Da-seot /다섯
Six / Yeo-seot / 여섯
Seven / Il-gop / Korean: 일곱
Eight / Yeo-deol / 여덟
Nine / A-hop / 아홉
Ten / Yeol / 열
For numbers past ten, simply combine the number ten (열) with the numbers 1 – 9. For example, below are the numbers 11 and 12 for you to practice and understand.
Eleven / Yeol-ha-na / 열하나
Twelve / Yeol-dul / 열둘
The number for 20 is also useful if you wish to express the time in 24-hour format or military time. The format for numbers like 21, 22, 23, etc follows the same principle of combining 20 (스물) with numbers 1 to 9.
Twenty / Seu-mul / 스물
Here are a few examples of how to tell the time using the Native Korean numbering system:
１. Two o’clock / Dul-si / 둘시
２. Eleven o’clock / Yeol-ha-na-si/ 열하나시
Quiz question 1:
What is the correct way of saying 8 o’clock?
How to Ask for the Time in Korean
The traditional and more formal way to ask for the time in Korean would be to ask:
What time is it? / jigeum myeoch siyeyo? / 지금 몇 시예요?
This question is the textbook way of asking for the time. It is generic and quite standard to use this form of questioning in any situation with anyone and is considered polite enough to use with both those you are acquainted with and with strangers.
Quiz question 2:
Which kind of audience is the question “지금 몇 시예요?” best suited for?
A – Older people you haven’t met before
B – Friends you’ve known for a long time
C – Both
The Sino-Korean numbering system comes from a blend of the Korean language with some Chinese influence. This system is the one used for specifying minutes, this time with the suffix 분 or bun which is written with the number as one word.
One / il / 일
Two / I / 이
Three / Sam / 삼
Four / Sa / 사
Five / O / 오
Six / Yuk / 육
Seven / Chil / 칠
Eight / Pal / 팔
Nine / Gu / 구
Ten / Sip / 십
Similarly to the Native Korean numbering system, numbers after ten simply combine the word 십 (sip) with a number from 1 to 9. The number for 13 would then be the word 십 combined with the word 삼 (sam) to make 십삼 (sip-sam).
Thirteen / Sip-sam / 십삼
However, unlike the Native Korean numbering system, there are no unique words for the numbers 20 to 90. To say these numbers, simply combine the word for ten with a number from 1 to 9 preceding it. It’s basically multiplication where 2 x 10 = 20, 3 x 10 = 30 and so on. Therefore combining 이 (i) and 십 (sip) makes 이십 (i-sip) which is 20. To say a number like 42, simply combine the previous structure with a number from 1 to 9. 사십 (sa-sip) and 이 (i) would therefore make 사십이 (sa-sip-i) or 42.
Twenty / I-sip / 이십
Thirty / Sam-sip / 삼십
Forty / Sa-sip / 사십
Fifty / O-sip / 오십
Sixty / Yuk-Sip / 육십
So here are a few examples of how to use the Sino-Korean numbering system to communicate the time:
１. 7:30 / Ilgob-si samsip-bun / 일곱시삼십 분
2. 5:15 / Da-soet-si sip-o-bun / 다섯시십오분
Quiz question 3:
What of these is the correct way to say 9:45?
AM or PM?
Just like in English, there are ways to distinguish whether a certain time is in the morning or the evening in the Korean language.
The respective words for AM in Korean and PM are 오전 (ojeon) and 오후 (ohu), which translate to morning and evening.
Morning (AM) / Ojeon / 오전
Evening (PM) / Ohu / 오후
In communicating the time, these words will usually be said before the actual time to indicate to the person you’re talking to which part of the day you’re referring to. These format is usually used for scheduling appointments, meetings or flights and the like.
Quiz question 4:
Which of these options indicate a time that occurs in the evening (PM)?
B: 오후 일곱시삼십분
Standard or Informal Korean
Standard Korean is the more informal way of expressing time to people. These are the kinds of sentences one would use in an everyday situation with people you are already familiar with or people you know rather intimately, such as family and friends.
What is the time now? / Jigeum myeot siyeyo?/ 지금 몇시예요?
It’s 10am. / Jigeum ojeon yeol-si / 지금 오전 열시
What time does the concert start? / Konseoteuneun eonje sijag doenayo? / 콘서트는 언제 시작 되나요?
The concert starts at 7:30pm / Konseoteuneun ohu il-gop-si sam-sip-bun sijaghabnida / 콘서트는 오후 일곱시 삼십분 시작합니다
For more professional, unfamiliar or older people, it is best to communicate using a more formal register of Korean. This would be for expressing time with business partners and clients, people with seniority or simply strangers with whom you don’t share a close relationship with.
Your flight is leaving at 5:30pm. / Ohu da-seot-si sam-sip-bun bihaenggiimnida / 오후 다섯시 삼십분 비행기입니다
What time should we meet? / Uri myeot si mannalkkayo? / 우리 몇시에 만날까요?
Let’s meet at 5:45pm / Ohu daseotsi sashipobun mannayo / 오후다섯시 사십오분 만나자 만나요
The bus arrives at 8am. / Beoseuneun ojeon yeo-teol-si dochakhapnida / 버스는 오전 여덟 시에 도착합니다
Quiz question 5:
Which of these is expressing time in a formal manner?
A: 지금 오전 열시
B: 지금 몇시예요?
C: 버스는 오전 여덟 시에 도착합니다
Here are some useful time-related phrases in Korean that may help you along your learning journey:
1. You’re late. / Neujeossgun / 늦었군
2. He is so early. / Geuneun neomu iljjik wasseoyo. /는 너무 일찍 왔어요
3. Let’s meet at the park next week. / Daeum jue gongwoneseo mannaja. / 다음 주에 공원에서 만나자.
4. When will the sun set? / Haeneun eonje jilkka? / 해는 언제 질까?
5. Good morning / Annyeonghaseyo / 안녕하세요.
6. When is your first class? / Dangsinui cheot sueobeun eonjeingayo? / 당신의 첫 수업은 언제인가요?
7. Did you finish on time? / Dangsineun je sigane kkeutnaessnayo? / 당신은 제 시간에 끝냈나요?
8. You are so punctual. / Siganeul neomu jal jikisineyo. /시간을 너무 잘 지키시네요
9. See you tomorrow. / Naeil boja. / 내일 보자.
10. When is the night bus coming? / Yagan beoseuneun eonje onayo? /야간 버스는 언제 오나요?
(Did you get everything right? Let’s hope so!)
잘보세요 (Jal boseyo) – Goodluck!
Now that you have a better understanding of how expressing time in Korean works, you will now be able to tell the difference between morning and evening (AM and PM), express both hours and minutes using the Native Korean numbering system and the Sino-Korean numbering system, switch between formal and informal modes of communication and ask relevant time-related questions. Learning these new phrases and questions is one of the best ways to learn Korean, as they should be a good foundation to help you along your broader language journey.