I think um means around, but German uses it for saying the time. Would the following expression be wrong?

A: Wie spät ist es?
B: Jetzt ist es schon um 20:00 Uhr.

  • Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/2093/… – chirlu Feb 17 '16 at 3:49
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    Please note that time designations have a strong regional aspect. What’s common in one dialect may be considered strange or wrong in another (or in the standard variety). – Crissov Feb 17 '16 at 7:49
  • In direkter Rede sagt/schreibt man "zwanzig Uhr" oder "20 Uhr", Bei "20:00 Uhr" wüsste ich nicht, wie ich es vorlesen soll. – user unknown Feb 17 '16 at 15:29

It is wrong.

If you want to say what time it is, simply say

Jetzt ist es schon 20:00 Uhr

The "um" would be wrong in this case. It is used, when you talk about the time of an event

Ich gehe heute um 11:30 in den Mittag

In Addition to that, if you want to tell the current time, but you don't know it exactly, then you would say

Jetzt ist es um die 20:00 Uhr

"um die" in this case has a similar meaning to "ungefähr".

  • Why include the schon? A simple Es ist acht Uhr. works, too. – Chieron Feb 17 '16 at 8:20
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    @Chieron: Because the sentence in the question used schon, I assume. – chirlu Feb 17 '16 at 8:33
  • @Chieron yes because it's used like that in the question – WayneEra Feb 17 '16 at 15:08
  • Die minutengenaue Angabe 20:00 steht einem ungefähr meistens entgegen. "Jetzt ist es um die 20 Uhr" würde ich gelten lassen. Wir reden hier ja von wörtlicher Rede, da gäbe es "Zwanzig Uhr Null" oder vielleicht "Zwanzig-Null-Null", aber wie spricht man "20:00 Uhr" aus? – user unknown Feb 17 '16 at 15:32
  • @userunknown es geht ja hier nicht um die ausprache – WayneEra Feb 18 '16 at 8:27

um in a context refering to time does not mean "around", but "at".

Wann fängt der Film an?

Der Film fängt um 20:15 Uhr an.

If you want to express "around" you must use "gegen"

Wann fängt der Film an?

Der Film fängt so gegen viertel nach acht an.

  • Do you mean with "gegen" the film will begin before or after eight o'clock,not too much near or far to eight, maybe at 7.55 or 8.05? – user1474062 Feb 17 '16 at 8:59
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    Note thate "Der Film fängt so um 20:15 an" also means "approximate". By adding "so", "um" doesn't translate to "at" any more. In the second sentence, "so" hasn't any influence and it always means "around". – Em1 Feb 17 '16 at 15:16
  • The text is about <b>saying</b> the time. How do you say "20:15 Uhr"? Btw.: The question is about "20:00 Uhr". – user unknown Feb 17 '16 at 15:35

Putting the context given away, the sentence can be correct for every native German speaker.

Example: Think of a recurring event that used to start at around 3 PM. Then the organizer decided that 3 PM is not a good time and moved it to, say, 5 PM. And now, eventually, they moved it again to an even later time — 8 PM that is.
Then the sentence "Jetzt ist es schon um 8 Uhr."1, most likely said in a frustrated voice, is perfectly valid. Note that jetzt doesn't refer to at this moment but to at the present time. And um clearly indicates that it is not necessarily an exact time.

Your given context, however, is a little weird. You refer to the time right now. You would give either the precise time (it's 3 minutes to 8), or an approximate time either without any indication that it isn't exact (it's 8) or with a hint that it's not too precise (it's shortly before 8).

While um certainly fits the third case (usually with a definite article), it's not common at all, except you don't know the exact time. It might be that some German (or Austrian or Swiss, for that matter) use it colloquially more frequently even if they know the exact time, but I don't know nothing about that.

So, if the context is that that current time is being asked, don't use um.

1 In the scenario I described above, erst would be more likely to be used over schon. Luckily, that doesn't weaken my argument at all. Actually, you would possibly even say "Jetzt ist es schon erst um 8 Uhr.", but that's not of matter in respect to the question.

  • In original sentence there was no "um", I used it later myself.Because I would like to know if it was possible like that. – user1474062 Feb 17 '16 at 9:31

No it isn't wrong. It is very common. You may also hear:

Jetzt ist es schon um acht

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    Define "very common". I don't think it is. I wouldn't say it. Not at all. That being said, I don't consider it wrong either; so in that point I agree with you. I'm wondering, though, if "um" indicates here that it is not exactly 8 o'clock and the speaker is just too lazy to tell the accurate time but wants to let the other one know that it isn't exactly on the hour. I, however, would just say that it's 8, even though it might be 3 minutes to or after 8. Or I'd say "kurz vor/nach 8" to be more accurate than "um" but less accurate than "3 minutes". My two cents. – Em1 Feb 17 '16 at 8:28
  • @Em1 I grew up in saxony, worked in Freising (roughly Munich), Frankfurt / Main and Aschaffenburg and um is used regularely to mark a full hour. Um in that case doesn't mark a range in time, but can be translated: Es ist um acht => Die achte Stunde ist um. Which may make sense if you take a look at the other three quarters of an hour: 7:15 as Viertel 8 7:30 as Halb 8 7:45 as Dreiviertel 8 – Alexander Werner Feb 17 '16 at 8:35
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    I didn't know that people from Southern Germany say "Viertel 8" and "Dreiviertel 8". Isn't that a peculiarity to Eastern Germany? Anyway, I wouldn't understand "um" as "it is after eight". And while I can believe that it is said in Bavaria, I kinda doubt that about Frankfurt. I don't live there but I know some people from that region and they certainly don't say it. – Em1 Feb 17 '16 at 8:53
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    I never heard "es ist um acht". I did hear "ich komme um acht Uhr", indicating a (fairly) exact time. But your usage is completely unknown to me. – Burki Feb 17 '16 at 8:55
  • @Em1 Viertel und dreiviertel. – Jan Feb 17 '16 at 18:33

As many answers have pointed out, um preceding a time usually means at exactly that given time. And using that intended meaning, your example would be wrong since the correct way to say it would be without um:

Jetzt ist es schon acht Uhr.

However some regional and dialectal language usage may also use um or related words to indicate somewhere around that exact time. Bavarian would most often use something sounding like umara — in fact, I once received an e-mail in Bavarian whose subject line was:

Gardn Party Samsdog umara viere. [sic]

Here, umara, a variant of um, is indeed used to say around, so the party would start at four-ish. Most Germans would probably use um … herum to express this, though, so using um to express around or -ish is often misunderstood.


"Es ist schon um acht" - I consider that colloquial, meaning "about eight". "Es ist schon acht" - Would be more correct.

Don't confuse with "Wir treffen uns um acht" - Which is exactly eight rather than around and proper German.

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    I don't think the um itself has any influence on how precise the time is. You could say "Es geht um 8:00 Uhr los" which is precise, or you could also say "Es geht ungefähr um 8:00 Uhr los". The um is contained in both sentences! – WayneEra Feb 17 '16 at 7:06
  • Ich habe verschiedene Treffen im Laufe der Zeit, und je nach dem - mal treffen wir uns mit der einen Gruppe um drei oder vier, und da ist 10 vor 3 bis 10 nach 3 (oder 4) in Ordnung, weil es keinen harten Anfang gibt, wie bei einem Kinofilm und weil es im Cafe ist, wo man bequem sitzt und nicht etwa im Regen steht. Ein anderes Treffen ist mit einem Vortrag verbunden, da triffft man sich um halb sieben, und vor fünf nach halb sieben geht es auch schon los. Daher treffen sich die meisten schon um viertel nach sechs. – user unknown Feb 17 '16 at 15:41
  • The average German is on time, always, :) Doesn’t say '8 'o clock sharp', just "8". The 'sharp' is implied. So anything language can do to soften that is adding "so um" or "ungefähr"... – tofro Feb 17 '16 at 17:39

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