Telling Time in Korean

When I was explaining the months of the year and the days of the week to you in Korean, I made a comment. I told you that Korean numbers can get very complicated because they have more than one system of numbers.  I thought I would show you the kind of things they do with time, and you may really understand what I was talking about.  For you to know how to tell time in Korean, you have to know more than one system of counting, and one of those systems, you have to learn which numbers must be slightly changed to tell time.  On top of that, they don’t quite tell time the way we do with A. M. and P. M.

Starting at the top right hand corner, that syllable of numbers is hana, then going down, dool, set, net, 1, 2, 3, 4.  Now go to the top of the next column: dasot, yosot, eelgob, yodolb, 5, 6, 7, 8.  Now, the top of the last column: ahhob, yol, yolhana, yoldool, 9, 10, 11, 12.

To begin with, this is the new system of numbers you have to know to tell time in Korean. It is the system used for counting things. However, with different things that you count, you must change the numbers a bit.  Japanese has the same idea.They have an equivalent set of numbers.  Whenever I tell time in Korean, I have to check myself because I have found it is really easy for me to get these numbers mixed up.  If they say “yol,” I check again and make sure it isn’t “yosot” or “yoldool.” For some reason, when I am speaking Korean, I have a tendency to get those mixed up. I have to be very conscious of what I am doing when I use these numbers or I will get appointments wrong, get the number of things I want to order at a restaurant wrong, etc.  I always check because I know I get them mixed up.

On the chart, there are more than the numbers.  Next to it, I have how to make them into time.  For most of them, all you have to do is add the syllable “shee” to the end of it, but not for all of them. “Shee” in Korean looks like an upside down “y” and an “I.”  You can recognize it.  Under that, I have written two examples of how the numbers change when you use them for time:  The first one is for 1:00. It is written “han-shee,” not “hana-shee.”  The second example is for 2:00 which is written “doo-shee,”  not “dool-shee.”  These are just two examples.

This is another system of numbers. You use these for the minutes.  When I talked about months, these are the same numbers they use for months.  On the first row: eel, ee, sam, sa, oh, yook, cheel, pal, goo, sheep; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.  Under that, I have written how you change them for minutes if you want to tell time.  “eel-boon” means one minutes, “ee-boon” means 2 minutes, etc.  The syllable next to the number is “boon” meaning minute.


If you look at the first column, it has all the times from 1:00 to 8:00 written.  They are pronounced:  hanshee, dooshee, sehshee, nehshee, dasotshee, yosotshee, eelgobshee, yodolbshee.  If you notice, it isn’t just 1:00 and 2:00 where the numbers change to make the hour. It is also 3:00 and 4:00, sehshee and nehshee.  Now we go on with gooshee and yolshee at the beginning of the next column meaning 9:00 and 10:00.  After that, 11:00 changes a bit from the original:  yolhanshee, and then 12:00 also changes a bit:  yoldoohanshee.

Underneath all that, I have shown you how the hours and minutes are put together:  “hanshee sheep-boon” means 1:10 and “neshee oh-boon” means 4:05, so when you want to express the hours and the minutes together, say the number for counting hours and say “shee,” and then add the second set of numbers for the number and put “boon.”  “Boon” means minutes.

Underneath that, there is another explanation.  “Ban” means half in Korean.  “Eelgobshee ban” would mean 7:30.  “Dooshee ban” means 2:30.  If you want to make it half past or 30 minutes past, just use “ban.”

alarm alarm clock analog analogue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, I want to explain the other confusion we have in telling time in Korean.  They use military time.  I think there is another name for it in English, but I am not sure what it is, and I call it military time because my dad was in the Air force all the time I was growing up, and it was the Air Force guys I heard using this time.  For example, we may say 1:00 a.m., and they will also say 1:00, but if we say 1:00 p. m., they will say 13 hundred.  They don’t use the a.m., p.m. concept.  They just continue the numbers on up so that the day actually has 24 hours instead of 12 hours and 12 hours.  You have to be very careful when Korean want to make an appointment. Some of them know how we use our time and they may use our system or they may use their system.  It can cause for confusion when you make appointments, so make sure you know which system they are using.

To put all this together, if you are really wanting to learn to speak Korean, I should tell you how to ask what time it is.  Just say “meeyot shee yeyo?” for “What time is it?”  If you want to ask someone what time something is, just say “me shee e?”  meaning “At what time?’  For example, “yebe nun me shee e yeyo?” meaning “What time is worship?’ “soo-op un me shee e sheejak heyo?’  = “What time does class start?”  Or maybe you want to meet a friend, “Me shee e manalkayo?” = “What time shall we meet?”  Just be sure you don’t show up at 10:00 when they meant 6:00 or at 8:00 in the morning when they meant 8:00 in the evening. Check to be sure because it can get confusing.


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