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After learning some basic numbers, I’m trying to lean how to say what time it is in German with this video.

As explained, the first way to tell the time is for Radio & Fernsehen (radio & television) which uses a 24 hour system.

For example, the time shown on this analogue clock:

Analogue clock showing the little hand between 9 and 10, and the big hand on 43.

(9:43) should be said as either:

  • „Es ist neun Uhr dreiundvierzig.“
    (“It is nine hour[s] [and] 43 [minutes].”)

or if it’s at night:

  • „Es ist einundzwanzig Uhr dreiundvierzig.“
    (“It is twenty-one hour[s] [and] 43 [minutes].”)

But when I put this second answer into Google Translate (to check if I’ve got it right), it translates back into English as:

It's 10:43 p.m.


I’m reasonably sure this is a just a mistake, but I’m not sure why Google would have trouble with this seemingly simple phrase.

As the second half of the video explains, telling the time in German can be somewhat complicated, so I thought I’d just check here if I was still misunderstanding something. (Perhaps writing the numbers out in words changes the meaning somehow?)

Am I wrong, or is Google Translate wrong?

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  • 6
    Google is wrong. Why? You need to ask google.
    – Olafant
    Jan 7 at 3:40
  • Is this kind of thing really an issue now? All my clocks are digital, and I assume it's the same for most German speakers (aside from a few antique collectors).
    – RDBury
    Jan 7 at 4:28
  • I can confirm the oddity. But it seems to apply only to that hour. It works for 9:43 or 'Es ist zweiundzwanzig Uhr dreiundvierzig' Jan 7 at 5:06
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    Try Es ist einundzwanzig Uhr drei. and behold the result. The reason for that is that Google Translate does not actually translate anything. It makes an uneducated guess from patterns it drilled. Nothing more. No one explained to it how numbers actually work in German because you can't explain anything to it. It's dumb. It can just repeat what you showed it. More or less accurately. — If you need a something that produces better translations, try DeepL. Its designers added some preprocessing that actually knows the rules of the language it should translate from.
    – Janka
    Jan 7 at 9:52
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's just an error in google translator.
    – Olafant
    Jan 7 at 16:14

1 Answer 1

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The translation by Google Translate is wrong, but also »Es ist einundzwanzig Uhr dreiundvierzig.« is a weird way to write the time. Nobody writes it that way, and maybe that's why Google has never learned to translate such a sentence; now has to guess and it guessed wrong.

This is how you speak it:

Es ist einundzwanzig Uhr dreiundvierzig.
It's nine forty-three pee-em.

But this is how you write it:

Es ist 21:43 Uhr.
It's 9:43 p.m.

Translating machines are made to translate written texts. And that's why the Google translator outputs a sentence that is grammatically correct in written English, but it has trouble understanding a sentence that is a literal transcription of a spoken sentence.


I could reproduce Google's error, but I also fed Google with the correct written sentence, and it correctly translated it into »It's 9:43 p.m.« Then I tried DeepL, which I think is a more powerful translator than that provided by Google, and I got these results:

German Google DeepL
Es ist einundzwanzig Uhr dreiundvierzig. It's 10:43 p.m. It's twenty-one forty-three.
Es ist 21:43 Uhr. It's 9:43 p.m. It's 9:43 pm.

So, both translators have trouble processing the transcription of the spoken version. Google gave an answer that is wrong, but DeepL tried its best to translate it correctly, and it still provided a translation that is stylistic as close to the input as possible.

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