Time will Tell? - What Time is it?

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late." – William Shakespeare.

Better spend time waiting for the opportunity to take an action than miss the chance. Learn this now before you miss your train, classes, work, etc next time!

Now with your knowledge on numbers, we can move on to time.

Modern time is expressed with a clock and numbers. Back in the days in ancient china before clocks were invented, you told time by other ways such as burning incenses, rough time to finish tea, and meal.

Let me tell you a little about that, you might find it interesting. So say for example, if you have ever watched any TV shows on ancient China, you might have heard "一炷香時間" (Dummy PY: Yet jü Heung see gan) meaning the time to burn one bunch of incenses, that is officially recognized as roughly 30 minutes. 香 (Dummy PY: Heung) incense, 香as an adjective also means fragrant, you can imagine why incenses are called 香 Fragrance, because they give off some kind of smell. Incenses are used to when you offer respects to the deceased or the gods. It is the same 香as the word 香in 香港, 香港 (Dummy PY: Heung Gong), if you ,didn’t know already was named Hong Kong, literally Fragrant Harbour because apparently back in the days you could smell the agarwood, a type of fragrant tree in HK.

Back in the days people also expressed time with tea, like 一盞茶時間 (Dummy PY: Yet Jan Cha see gan), like the time for a cup of tea. So that is to say, the rough time for when the hot tea is serve, until you finish that cup, that is the rough time, officially recognized as 15 minutes. But obviously in the summer, it will take longer for your tea to cool down, in the winter,it might only take about 10. So that’s why it was the rough time.

Finally, 一頓飯時間 (Dummy PY: Yet Dun Fan see gan), so like the time for a meal. This is similar to the time of burning incense, officially recognized as roughly 30 minutes.

So let’s get back to 2020, how do we express time in Hong Kongese?

Let’s start with just reading the clock. Cantonese clock concept is in 60 minutes, and 12 sections. You will express time from 1-12, very rarely we use 24-hour system to tell time.

Now you might want to ask someone what time is it, let’s say you didn’t bring your phone or watch, in Cantonese we say "幾多點丫?” (Dummy PY: Gay Door Dim Ah) to indicate that you are referring to the present, you add 宜家 (Dummy PY: Yee Ga), you can say “宜家幾多點丫?” (Dummy PY: Yee Ga Gay Door Dim Ah)literally “Now what is the time?” or "幾多點丫宜家?” (Dummy PY: Gay Door Dim Ah Yee Ga) literally “What time is it now?” 宜家 (Dummy PY: Yee Ga) is now, the present, you can place the word now “宜家" (Dummy PY: Yee Ga) at the beginning of the sentence or after, it doesn’t matter.

Let’s say right now is three o’clock.

O'clock, in spoken Cantonese is 點 (Dummy PY: Dim), the same 點 (Dummy PY: Dim) as 你點丫? (Dummy PY: Neigh Dim Ah) How are you? (You can go back to the episode conversational greeting to see this word) To say three o’clock you will say 三點 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim), three o’clock. Sometimes in formal writing you will see the word 時 (Dummy PY: Si) instead of 點(Dummy PY: Dim), 時 (Dummy PY: Si) means time also “o’clock” in this context. People usually won’t say 三時 (Dummy PY: Sarm Si) because it is more formal, 三點 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim)is a lot more common. Same as the word o’clock, both 點 (Dummy PY: Dim) and 時 (Dummy PY: Si) do not tell you whether it is AM or PM.

To tell the minutes of the clock

There are many ways to express the minutes of the current time in Hong Kongese.

1. Start with the simplest:

Half-past three, 30 past three, 30 to four, you know 3:30, in Cantonese, you will use the word “Half” to express, so 3:30, you will say 三點半 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Boon), 半 (Dummy PY: Boon) literally half, so in Cantonese, the literal translation is 3 o’clock half. The easiest, and closest to the English concept would be by using the 60 minutes in an hour system to tell time. So for example, 3:30, other than 三點半 (Half past 3) (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Boon), you can also say 3點30分 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Sarm Sup Fun), 分 (Dummy PY: Fun) is short for 分鐘 (Dummy PY: Fun Jong) meaning minutes. So very simply the literal translation is three o’clock 30 minutes, 3:30.

2. Now let’s go more into specifics:

You can express minutes not just according to 60 minutes, but how many sections. So in 60 minutes, just like what is shown on a clock face, in the Hong Kong concept, 60 minutes is divided into 12 sections, in Cantonese it’s called 字 (Dummy PY: Ji). Each 5 minutes is one section 1 個字 (Dummy PY: Yet Gor Ji), so for 3:05 you can say 三點一個字 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Yet Gor Ji), so 3:10 is 三點兩個字(Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Leung Gor Ji), 3:15 is 三點三個字 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Sarm Gor Ji), so on and so forth. Obviously when it is at the 12th section, which mean the minute hand lands on the 60 minute mark, we won’t say 三點十二個字 (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Sup Yee Gor Ji), because obviously when it lands on the 12 section, it means it is another hour, you would simply say, it’s 4 o’clock, 4 點 ((Dummy PY: Say Dim).

*Note that in the previous episode, I told you that 2 is 二 (Dummy PY: Yee), but when counting, in Hong Kongese we use the word 兩 (Dummy PY: Leung)instead, it means 2.

Sometimes, people already know what hour it is, but would like to know the rough minutes, they would ask something like, “宜家搭幾丫?"or “搭幾丫宜家?" Basically asking you, what number is the minute hand landing on right now? Again, now “宜家" you can place it at the beginning of the sentence or after, it doesn’t matter.

When they ask a question like this, it is kind of understood that they already know what hour this is, and would like to know what minute section this is. So let’s say its 3:05, you can omit the 3 o’clock and simply say “搭一" (Dummy PY: Darp Yet)basically saying, the hour hand lands on the first section, meaning 5 minutes past. Or you can say it in full to be clear “三點搭一" (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Darp Yet)literally 3:05. 搭 (Dummy PY: Darp) is often omitted, you can simply say “三點一" (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Yet)so literally 3 o’clock and one meaning 3:05. So 3:10 is “三點搭二" (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Darp Yee), “三點二" (Dummy PY: Sarm Dim Yee).

*Here why do we use two 二instead of 兩? Didn’t I say 兩 two is used for counting? Yes, but here it is indicating the hour hand lands on the number 2, so not really counting, hence you will say 二. Sometimes people do say “三點兩" that is because they meant to say “三點兩個字” but “個字” section is omited because it is understood.

So 3:15 “三點搭三", 3:20 “三點搭四" so on and so forth.

How do we express it is almost a certain time?

You can use the Hour and minute combo, like 3:23 三點二十三分 but you can use a rough estimate by rounding up or round down to express it. For 3:23 you can say it is almost 3:25, 三點差少少搭五 or 三點差D搭五. So 差少少搭五 or 差D搭五 means almost (in a little bit) the hour hand will land on the 5th section, so almost 3:25. Or you can sometimes hear people say 三點搭四多D or 三點搭四多少少, meaning three o’clock hour hand on the 4th section and a little more, so a little past 3:20.

*You might have noticed that Hong Kongers use the word D a lot, D has a written Cantonese word form, but more commonly people just write the letter D, it ambiguously or vaguely means a little.

Even more general, sometimes you can hear people say 差 1個字 搭半, literally “missing 1 section until half-past” so meaning 5 minutes to half past, so if its like 3:15 you can say 差 3個字 搭半, and if its like 3:45, you can say 差 3個字四點 so on and so forth.

The super generals to tell time:

Anything past an hour, say like 3:20 or 3:40 you can say 3 點幾, basically it’s past 3 o’clock, but no specifics provided. Or it’s almost 4, you can say 就黎四點, basically almost becoming 4 ‘clock.

Similar concept but slightly different, when you want to express 3 hours, for example, someone asks you how long the class is, it’s 3 hours you say, then you will say 三個鐘 literal meaning is 3 clocks, but actually, it means the hour hand going around the clock three times, so simply put it means 3 hours.

Last but not least, to express the word seconds, you say 秒 seconds.

List of vocab:

秒- seconds

(Official Pronunciation: [miu5] Dummy PinYin: [mew])

分鐘- minutes

(Official Pronunciation: [fan1][jung1]Dummy PinYin: [fun][jung])

一炷香時間- Time for one bunch of incenses to be burned

(Official Pronunciation: [yat1][jyu3][heung1][si4][gaan3] Dummy Pin Yin: [Yet][zhue][heung][si][gan])

一盞茶- one cup of tea

(Official Pronunciation: [yat1][jyu3][heung1][si4][gaan3] Dummy Pin Yin: [Yet][jan][cha])

一頓飯 - one meal

(Official Pronunciation: [yat1][deun6][faan6] Dummy Pin Yin: [Yet][dune][fan])

宜家- now

(Official Pronunciation: [yi4][ga1] Dummy Pinyin: {yee][ga])

幾多點丫- What time is it?

(Official Pronunication:[gei2][do1][dim2][a1] Dummy Pinyin: [gay][door][dim][ah])

搭幾丫- What is the minute hand landing on?

(Official Pronunication: [daap3][gei2][a1] Dummy PinYin: [dap][gay][ah])

字- Every 5 minute as a section for time/ **Other meaning: word/character

(Official Pronunication: [ji6] Dummy PinYin: [ji])

差少少/ 差D - Almost

(official Pronunciation: [cha1][siu2][siu2] Dummy PinYin: [char][siu][siu])

就黎 - almost going to be

(Official Pronunciation: [jau6][lai4] Dummy PinYin: [jow][lay])