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There are two ways to say “What time is it?” in Russian, and they are «Который час?» and «Сколько времени?» «Который час?» is the traditional way of asking the question, and you will find some Russians still who insist that it is the only way you can say it. But truth to tell, «Сколько времени?» or «Сколько сейчас времени?» are perfectly normal and perfectly educated ways to ask the question as well nowadays. If someone is inclined to be contentious about this point, please refer to this entry (mirror) from the Dictionary of Difficulties at gramota.ru.
In conversational Russian you will also hear people say «Сколько время?» but that is conversational and low style. No one will ever use it in writing or in an educated context, so foreigners should avoid it.
Asking what time it is is a piece of cake in Russian. Answering that question is more like a piece of gristle... actually a whole mouthful of nasty ol' gristle. It turns out that you have different rules for saying what time it is depending on whether the time is:
- right on the hour, or
- a quarter after the hour, or
- a quarter to the hour, or
- half past the hour, or
- at a particular minute during the first half of the hour, or
- at a particular mintue during the second half of the hour, or
- generically somewhere between one hour or another.
That's right. You have to figure out how to say each of those things separately. Over the next couple of weeks we will review the different ways to say what time it is in thorough detial. Are you starting to wish you had studied Arabic?
Other entries dealing with time are soon to come. Look for them under the categories "Time phrases" and "What time is it" and "At what time."
Errr... What's wrong with simply answering "Десять двадцать пять" or whatever time it is?
I was wondering about «Сколько времени?» for a while, thanks for clarifying it.
Don responds: There is nothing wrong with responding “десять двадцать пять” if you mean 10:25 a.m. It's 24-hour time, and everyone will understand it. But in colloquial time, the time that people use when they look at their personal watches, they are most likely to say “twenty-five minutes of the eleventh.” See the following entries for details.