Date and time notation in Europe

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The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) adopted ISO 8601 with EN 28601. CEN member states are required to adopt the standard too.

Except for Austria, Germany and Switzerland, see the navigation box on the bottom to find individual articles per country.

Post-Soviet states[edit]


In the Post-Soviet states DD.MM.YYYY format is used with dot as a separator.


24-hour time notation is used officially and for purposes that require precision like announcements in the media. In colloquial speech 12-hour clock is used.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland[edit]


In written German, time is expressed practically exclusively in the 24-hour notation (00:00–23:59), using either a colon or a dot on the line as the separators between hours, minutes and seconds. Example: 14:51 or 14.51. The standard separator in Germany was the dot (DIN 1355, DIN 5008) until 1995, when the standards changed it to be the colon, in the interest of compatibility with ISO 8601. The traditional representation with dot allows to drop the leading zero of hours and is usually followed by the literal string “Uhr” (e.g., “6.30 Uhr”). Just as with the date format, leading zeros seem to be less common in Germany than in Austria and Switzerland although the Austrian Standard OENORM also recommends the zero only for table-form dates like "Abfahrt: 08:30 Uhr" and not for running text.[1]

In spoken language, the 24-hour clock has become the dominant form during the second half of the 20th century, especially for formal announcements and exact points in time. Systematic use of the 24-hour clock by German TV announcers, along with the proliferation of digital clocks, may have been a significant factor in this development. In Switzerland, only the 12-hour clock is used in speech.

A variant of the 12-hour clock is also used, in particular in informal speech for approximate times. On some radio stations, announcers regularly give the current time on both forms, as in "Es ist jetzt vierzehn Uhr einundfünfzig; neun Minuten vor drei" ("It is now fourteen fifty-one; nine minutes to three").

There are two variants of the 12-hour clock used in spoken German regarding quarterly fractions of the current hour. One always relates to the next full hour, in other words, it names the fraction of the currently passing hour. For example, "dreiviertel drei" (three-quarter three, see table below) stands for "three quarters of the third hour have passed".

The other variant is relative; this one is also used for multiples of five minutes.

Time Absolute Relative
14:00 “zwei Uhr/zwei/um zwei” (two o’clock)
14:05 “fünf nach zwei” (five past two)
14:10 “zehn nach zwei” (ten past two)
14:15 “viertel drei” (quarter three) “viertel nach zwei” (quarter past two)
14:20 “zwanzig nach zwei” (twenty past two) / “zehn vor halb drei” (ten to half three)
14:25 “fünf vor halb drei” (five to half three)
14:30 “halb drei” (half three)
14:35 “fünf nach halb drei” (five past half three)
14:40 “zwanzig vor drei” (twenty to three) / “zehn nach halb drei” (ten past half three)
14:45 "dreiviertel drei" (three-quarter three) “viertel vor/auf drei” (quarter to three)
14:50 “zehn vor drei” (ten to three)
14:55 “fünf vor drei” (five to three)
15:00 "drei Uhr/drei/um drei" (three o’clock)

Note that these phrases are exclusive to the 12-hour clock, just as the "(hour) Uhr (minutes)" format is exclusive to the 24-hour clock.

The controversy between the "absolute" and "relative" ways of giving the time is largely one of regional dialect differences: the "relative" variant (as in "viertel/Viertel vor/auf drei") is the much more common one as it is used in a wide diagonal strip from Hamburg to Switzerland,[2] leaving some of the German south-west and most of eastern Germany as well as the eastern half of Austria with the "absolute" variant (as in "dreiviertel drei" or "drei Viertel drei"). For half-hours, the absolute form as in "halb zwei" is used everywhere. The term controversy may be appropriate insofar as "relativists" often complain about not being able to decode the "absolute" way of telling the time, resulting in missed appointments etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^, p.2
  2. ^ Internetumfrage nach IP-Ortung