I am a German language beginner. I understand that, in principle, the time 17:45 could be referred to (informally, unofficially) as either "Viertel vor sechs" ("a quarter to six") or "dreiviertel sechs" ("three quarters [...] six") and that the latter is less common and only used in some parts of Germany and Austria.

How common in practice is this latter (and to an English native speaker, very confusing) form and in which parts of the German-speaking world can I expect to encounter it?

By extension, does "viertel sechs" (without the "vor") mean 17:15 in these parts of the world?

  • 4
    To the last part: yes, "viertel sechs" is 17:15. "halb sechs (halb = zwei viertel)" is 17:30, "dreiviertel sechs" is 17:45. Very easy ;-)...
    – IQV
    Mar 7, 2018 at 9:44
  • 1
    I found this map but can't assess the reliability.
    – IQV
    Mar 7, 2018 at 9:50
  • 1
    As a help for people wanting to answer: atlas-alltagssprache.de/uhrzeit atlas-alltagssprache.de/runde-7/f11e
    – Carsten S
    Mar 7, 2018 at 9:57
  • 1
    Statt 5 nach halb 6 kann man auch 7 zwölftel 6 sagen. Analog ist 1 drittel 6 auch 20 nach 5. Mar 7, 2018 at 15:59
  • "and to an English native speaker, very confusing" - thinking about the actual meaning of the words is confusing (also for a German native speaker). It only becomes clear once you realize that in that system, "the current hour" is "something that gets gradually completed". "Es ist viertel sechs." says that a quarter of the hour no. 6 has been completed." More literally: "It is six o'clock (we are within the sixth hour), but it is not completely six o'clock yet, just one quarter of it so far." Mar 8, 2018 at 8:24

7 Answers 7


The other answers here are trying to make things far more complicated than they need be for a beginner.

viertel nach fünf
halb sechs
viertel vor sechs

will be understood everywhere in the German-speaking world

viertel sechs
dreiviertel sechs

are likely to cause confusion in large parts of the German-speaking world


I live in Austria (first 30 years in Graz, then 20 years in Vienna and now for 2 years in St. Pölten).

Here »dreiviertel sechs« is much more common than »viertel vor sechs«. But, as you already know, this differs from region to region. I have not much idea how big the dreiviertel-area really is, and where it overlaps with the Viertel-vor-region.

This is how we in Austria tell the time. There are always more than one possibilities, I write them one below the other. Those which are used not very often are put in brackets:

  • 17:00
    siebzehn Uhr
    fünf Uhr
  • 17:05
    siebzehn Uhr fünf
    fünf nach fünf
  • 17:10
    siebzehn Uhr zehn
    zehn nach fünf
    (fünf vor viertel sechs)
  • 17:15
    siebzehn Uhr fünfzehn
    viertel sechs
    (viertel nach fünf)
    (viertel über fünf)
  • 17:20
    siebzehn Uhr zwanzig
    fünf nach viertel sechs
    zehn vor halb sechs
  • 17:25
    siebzehn Uhr fünfundzwanzig
    fünf vor halb sechs
  • 17:30
    siebzehn Uhr dreißig
    halb sechs
  • 17:35
    siebzehn Uhr fünfunddreißig
    fünf nach halb sechs
  • 17:40
    siebzehn Uhr vierzig
    zehn nach halb sechs
    fünf vor dreiviertel sechs
  • 17:45
    siebzehn Uhr fünfundvierzig
    dreiviertel sechs
  • 17:50
    siebzehn Uhr fünfzig
    zehn vor sechs
    (fünf nach dreiviertel sechs)
  • 17:55
    siebzehn Uhr fünfundfünfzig
    fünf vor sechs
  • 18:00
    achtzehn Uhr
    sechs Uhr
  • Ah, genau derselbe Gedanke. Es geht ja nicht nur um dreiviertel. .
    – Janka
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:04
  • fünf vor/nach viertel/dreiviertel scheint eine österreichische Spezialität zu sein.
    – Janka
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:07
  • 2
    @Janka Das kenne ich aus Ostdeutschland auch
    – Arsak
    Mar 7, 2018 at 13:37
  • 1
    Bei 18:00 Uhr fehlt noch "viertel vor viertel nach sechs". Mar 8, 2018 at 8:47

When to use viertel vor sechs and when to use drei viertel sechs?

Simple answer: As a foreigner you should never do this.

The reason is simple:

... and that the latter is ... only used in some parts of Germany and Austria.

... and I was told that the second form is not even understood by people coming from some parts of Germany!

However the first form is understood and used all over Germany.

How common in practice is this latter ... form

In south-western Germany it is very, very common. (However there are also people using the first form.)

By extension, does "viertel sechs" mean 17:15 ...

Yes, but ...

... in these parts of the world?

... the map linked in Pharguin's answer shows that the regions where the term "dreiviertel sechs" is used and the regions where "viertel sechs" is used are not identical.


Simply to complete all other answers I want add the following resource. The site "Atlas der Deutschen Sprache" is referencing an old map of the usage spread over Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In general there is no rule when to use which.

This might also be worth reading:


enter image description here

  • Of course, Atlas der Deutschen Sprache usually just points out which alternative most people in each region would be most likely to use. It does not provide any insight into which alternatives they understand. Mar 10, 2018 at 20:51

In German, there are many common ways to tell the clock, that makes it a bit complicated.

16:55 – fünf vor fünf (nachmittags) oder sechzehn Uhr fünfundfünfzig

17:00 – (um) fünf oder fünf Uhr (nachmittags) oder siebzehn Uhr

17:15 – viertel nach fünf (nachmittags) oder viertel sechs (abends) oder siebzehn Uhr fünfzehn

17:20 – zehn vor halb sechs (abends) oder siebzehn Uhr zwanzig

17:30 – halb sechs (abends) oder siebzehn Uhr dreißig

17:35 – fünf nach halb sechs (abends) oder siebzehn Uhr fünfunddreißig

17:45 – viertel vor sechs (abends) oder dreiviertel sechs (abends) oder siebzehn Uhr fünfundvierzig

All of these are universally used and understood, as you may encounter German speakers from any region anywhere throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Swiss German uses ab instead of nach, Austrian German über instead of nach. These aren't universally understood.

Your question was specifically about the dreiviertel sechs. This is common in most of East Germany, Franconia and Swabia.

  • 5
    In my experience, the "viertel/dreiviertel sechs" is not understood by many of the "viertel nach/vor" speakers, while it is understood the other way around. Mar 7, 2018 at 14:54

Origin of the term "dreiviertel 6":

To end up with your wanted time, just take the minutes of the current hour and convert it to parts of an hour. Afterwards simply add the incoming hour after it and you'll end up with someting like this:

  • 17:45 + 18:00 Uhr (45 Minuten = drei-viertel Stunde -> 'dreiviertel 6')

in the same way:

  • 14:15 + 15:00 Uhr (15 Minuten = viertel Stunde -> 'viertel 3')

and the most common one:

  • 15:30 + 16:00 Uhr (30 Minuten = halbe Stunde -> 'halb 4')

Where is it used?

Nowadays mostly:

  • Austria
  • Bavaria
  • South Tyrol

These three have a lot in common as they speak the same language (yes it can be defined as a language -> English/Deutsch)
It's also used in:

  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Eastern Germany

Should I used it as a foreigner/language learner?

That's up to you!
It's probably easier to just go for the more widely understood "viertel vor 6", as everybody knows it and you can't go wrong with it.
But, if you're planning on spending most of your time in the souther parts, people will probably be pleasantly surprised as they realize you're interested in their regional culture and peculiarities. Or maybe you just want to teach some of the other Germans some math ;-)


Just to add on the already complete answers (both is correct, there are regional preferences), there exist maps to these preferences, showing which variant is more common in a specific area. Take this as an example:


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