Learn German Online – Time 3 – “Words”

Hi everyone,

and welcome to the third part of what is going to be a 5 or 6 part epic mini series on “How to talk about time in German”. In part 1, we have taken a more general look at what ways there are to talk about time and in part 2 we learned how to say the time of day in German… wow … that one was really boring.
So, todays lecture is going to be called:

Time 3 – Kittens are cute

What’s that ? The title is stupid and random? Well maybe, but it is definitely true and it is  something people can relate to. “You Bloggers need to get people invested by pulling their emotional strings”, is what the guy at the successful-blogging-seminar said, continuing with “Facts are for nerds. Now do you wanne write for nerds???? DO YOU???”. Of course the whole audience was shouting “NOOOOOO” and someone shouted “Screw nerds!”, upon which our blogging coach said “No, that is JUST what they want.”
Man… that guy really is a genius… oh and I see we have a call here, if you guys want to be live on the show, call 0800-151-vocab-4-u, and we have Shane from Durban, hi Shane: 
 “Hi Emanuel, so is todays lecture like How-to-waste-Time or something…”
No, it’s about all those..
“…because wasting time is what your doing right now…”
Ohhhhh ahahah, you totally called me out there, man. I’m sorry, I guess I should start for real.. oh by the way, it should be pronounced ‘you’re doing’… not ‘your doing’
“Crap, that’s right… I always mispronounce because they are both spelled the same… anyway, looking forward to todays real topic…”
Cool. So…
today we’ll have a look at what I call “names of time”. “Names of time” are words  that can answer the question when? all by themselves or in a team-up with a preposition. In grammar jargon some of those would be temporal adverbs and others would be nouns but I’ll stick with the word “name”.
An simple example for a name is tomorrow. Tomorrow can be an appropriate answer to when? and there is no context needed or anything. But it is really merely a word and had language evolved differently it could very well have been a different word – a different name… for example: muffin.

  • “When will mom be coming back from Paris.”
  • “Muffin night.”
  • “Oh shit we ought to clean.”

When you know that muffin is the day after today it works just as fine and sounds incredibly sweet. So… words like tomorrow, today or later but also Monday or June are what I call “names for time”. On the other hand there are words like then, thereafter or while, which  in jargon would be again temporal adverbs or  subordinating conjunctions, are not “names for time”. Why not? Because they can’t answer the question when? all by themselves. Then and thereafter don’t mean anything unless a reference in time is already known and while is just an introductory word which by itself doesn’t have any answering power whatsoever. “Thereafter!” is not an answer, if you don’t know what the reference is, “While!” is not an answer at all. Alright. So today we’ll talk about words that can answer a when? question all by themselves and those are “names of time”, and the corresponding prepositions. You will be seeing a lot of vocabulary so get your  pen ready and we’ll start with:

Months and others

First I will throw some vocabulary at you.

  • die Woche                       – the week
  • das Wochenende        – the weekend
  • der Monat                       – the month

I will not list all the months here as others have done it and I guess you either know most of them anyway or you have no intention to learn them (I never was too eager when I was learning a new language)…. so here is the link. I just need to add, that all months are der. Ok… let’s continue with more words.

  • das Jahr                            – the year
  • das Jahrzehnt               – the decade
  • das Jahrhundert         – the century
  • das Jahrtausend         – the millenium

Oh so many words… have some more! :)

  • die Jahreszeit                    – the season
  • der Frühling (der Lenz)   – the spring
  • der Sommer                              – the summer
  • der  Herbst                                  – the fall
  • der Winter                                  – the sum… uh I meant winter of course

Ok. So now we need to use these as a time indication in a sentence. There are 2 main ways to do this… one with preposition (prep-way) and one without preposition. Now everyone of you is like “Yeah sweet, I’ll just go with the non-prep-way all the time”. Well sorry to disappoint but the non-prep-way doesn’t always work. But let’s look at the prep-way first. Luckily, we need only one preposition for the most part: in. Almost every word of the above works with in. Only Wochenende needs an.
Of course only slapping the preposition on front isn’t enough. We need some case-3-dative-gender-article-fusion-voodoo to get the correct construction but honestly … you can also just learn the 3 needed patterns. When the word is female like die Woche use in der, when it’s male or neuter use im, which is short for in dem  or am, which is short for Ante Meridiem… and also for an dem, if we’re talking about das Wochenende.
So here are some examples.

  • In der Woche gehe ich arbeiten, am Wochenende fahre ich in die Berge.
  • During the week I go to work, on the weekend(s) I go to the mountains.
  • Im Juni fahre ich ans Meer, im Oktober nach Paris
  • In June I will go to the sea, in October to Paris.
  • Im Herbst ist es oft sehr windig.
  • In fall it is usually very windy.
  • Im Herbst werde ich 32 Jahre alt.
  • I will turn 32 in/this fall.
  • Im 15. Jahrhundert wurde Amerika entdeckt.
  • America was discovered in the 15th century.

So… what’s really important is not to  just say “in something” as it would be in English.
Now on to the non-prep-way. You don’t need to use a preposition when you want to say things like last week or next September.

  •  letzte/r/n/m/s     –   last sth.
  • diese/r/n/m/s      –  this sth.
  • nächste/r/n/m/s   – next sth.

On a little side note … German has a very convenient system to refer to months, days, weeks and years that are before or after the last or next one.

  • vorletzte  Woche  – the week before last – not last week but the week before
  • übernächstes Jahr – the year after next –  not next year but the year after

And you can continue like this:

  • vorvorletzte Woche – not the last week and not the one before that but the one before that one so basically … 3 weeks ago
  • überübernächsten Sommer – … I think you get it

Technically you can do this to infinity and say:

  • I was born vorvorvorvorvor….(1 hour later)…vorvorvorvorvorletzte Woche.

but some people might lose count or be gone for a coffee.
Anyways,  1 level deep (vorletzte, übernächste) is top notch German and 2 levels deep is still quite common so vorvorletzte Woche is not too far fetched.

Now, where were we? AH yeah right, the non-prep-way. So whenever you use letzte or nächste or diese, you don’t need a preposition.

  • Letzten Mittwoch war die Bibliothek zu.
  • Last Wednesday the library was closed.
  • Mein Bruder war vorletzte Woche in Berlin.
  • My brother was in Berlin the penultimate week/ 2 weeks ago.

Kind of like English…. except, we have to bother about endings here… of course.  Now one would think  nächsten Juni is just a short version of im nächsten Juni.Well, it’s actually not and that is apparent when we look at a female example.

  • In der nächsten Woche fahre ich nach London.

A short version of that would be:

  • Nächsten Woche fahre ich nach London.

But the correct non-prep-way is:

  • Nächste Woche ….

So … what we have here is not just a shortened prep-way… we have a new way which is using case 4 aka accusative. Now, I said this so you are aware of the underlying structure but you shouldn’t think too hard. I am sure many Germans would have to think for a bit to even answer which case this non-prep-way uses. Sure it sounds odd… maybe even very odd… if you miss an ending but I don’t think it’ll hinder being understood. Now here is one example for every gender:

  • Diesen Sommer will ich einen Surfurlaub machen.
  • This summer, I want to have a surf-vacation. (too lazy to rephrase)
  • Übernächste Woche habe ich einen wichtigen Termin
  • The week after next week, I have an important appointment.
  • Letztes Wochenende war ich im Kino.
  • Last weekend, I was at the movies.

By the way… In German you put NO comma after an initial time indication.
Alright… now is it also possible to use the prep-way with words like letzte or nächste? Well, technically you can say things like, without being wrong.

  • Am letzten Wochenende

But, at least to me, this sounds like you are speaking about the last weekend of, say, 5 weekends you spent in Dublin and not so much about the mere last weekend.

  • Im nächsten Juni.

Hmmm… the context will pretty much make it clear but still… sounds a bit like

  • The following June… as opposed to
  • Next June

So I’d say… don’t use the prep-way with letzte, nächste etc.
Now to wrap this part up, an example with a kind of double layer…

  • Diese Woche Donnerstag ist ein Feiertag.
  • Thursday this week will be a holiday.

This works also for months… but not so well maybe:

  • Letztes Jahr Juni war ich in London. — well it’s ok
  • Letztes Jahr im Juni war ich in London. — much better
  • Im Juni letzten Jahres war ich in London. —- let’s not go there today ;) it sure sounds fancy but no one really talks like that

So… quick recap… we have the prep-way with mostly im and then the non-prep-way with words like nächste or letzte. Cool. Movin’ on.

Days and their parts

Once again I decided not to list all the days here but just give you a link, lazy me… click here. All days are masculine… as is der Tag itself.
Now, how about some more words… the parts of the day… the times I indicated are NOT to be taken too literally… it is kind of blurry.

  • der Morgen          (5:00 – 9:00)          – the morning
  • der Vormittag      (9:00 – 11:59)          – the morning / the forenoon
  • der Mittag               (11:00 – 14:00)       – the noon / the midday
  • der Nachmittag  (14:00 – 18:00 )      – the afternoon
  • der Abend                (18:00 – 00:00)      – the evening
  • die Nacht                  (00:00 – sunrise)    – the night

One thing to note here is the fact that the German Nacht really means the night. So if you want to ask someone about his or her plans for the night in German you should ask:

  • Was machst du heute Abend?
  • What are you doing tonight?

If you ask:

  • Was machst du heute Nacht?

the answer will be:

  • Ich schlafe. Warum?
  • I sleep. Why?

So… now we know the days and their parts and we can start to use them as a time indication. For the months and the other stuff we had 2 ways…. the prep-way and the non-prep-way. This time there are 3 ways… wooohoooooo so cool.
There is the prep-way, the non-prep-way and the new way, the s-way. And yes, you need to know this one too because it means something slightly different.
Let’s start with the prep-way.
The prep-way is normally used to speak about one specific day, say, one specific Montag or one specific Abend.Luckily, picking the right preposition is a piece of cake. Here is how it goes: All days and all parts are masculine and only Nacht is die Nacht, so Nacht is a girl. Now, all the masculine ones, the man-ones work with an… like man… and the female one, die Nacht, works with the preposition in which makes sense because in is like… like … uh… feminine … yeah feminine..
Now, after applying the case 3 (dative) to the article, throwing in the preposition, adding some water,  letting the melange simmer over a small fire till new moon, constantly stirring with a spoon made from the wood of a 100 year old widow tree, we finally get the word am orin der respectively and we have all we need for examples.

  • Ich habe am Sonntag mit meiner Katze gespielt.
  • I played with my cat on Sunday.
  • Am Morgen nach der Party habe ich meine Küche aufgeräumt.
  • In the morning after the party I have cleaned my kitchen.
  • Ich bin in der Nacht ins Krankenhaus gefahren.
  • I went to the hospital at night.

So… in all those examples we are talking about one specific Sonntag, one specific Morgen and one specific Nacht .
The s-way on the contrary is used to speak about the day or the part of the day in a more general way. The s-way is not using a preposition but adds an s to the word instead.

  • Dienstags essen wir Fisch.
  • On Tuesdays, we eat fish. (all Tuesdays)
  • Mittags ist es in Spanien sehr heiß.
  • Around noon it is very hot in Spain.
  • Machst du lieber abends oder lieber morgens Sport?
  • Do you prefer working out at night or in the morning?

The distinction between the prep-way and the s-way is not totally strict. Sometimes, people might use am to talk in the general sense and use the s-way for one specific morning, especially for the parts of the day like Morgen, Mittag etc., but the 2 ways definitely have a different undertone, which you should be aware of… let’s take the fish-example again.

  • Dienstags essen wir Fisch.
  • On Tuesdays, we eat fish. (all Tuesdays)


  • Am Dienstag essen wir Fisch.
  • On Tuesday, we eat fish. (one Tuesday)

Now, another thing… I don’t really know if it is a recent development or not but it is also quite common to use the days without a preposition and without s… similar to English.

  • (Am) Montag war ich beim Zahnarzt.
  • Monday, I was at the dentist.

In German you can also do it having the day in mid sentence.

  • Ich war (am) Mittwoch mit meiner Freundin im Kino
  • I was at the movies with my girlfriend on Wednesday.

This only works for days though. You cannot apply it for the parts of the day.

  • Nachmittag war ich Fußball spielen. – IS WRONG

Either of the following is fine… also the s-way speaks about a specific Nachmittag here, as the context kind of restricts it:

  • Am Nachmittag war ich Fußball spielen.
  • Nachmittags war ich Fußball spielen.

Alright… now before we get to the non-prep-way I want to quickly mention that, if you refer to a day by its date you have to do it in the prep-way… with the preposition an. For boredom-protection-reasons I don’t want to get into how to say the date right now… I hope you don’t mind.

  • Der Wheinachtsmann kommt am 24. Dezember.
  • Santa Claus comes on the 24th of December.

Alright, so we had the prep-way mostly using am here and the s-way and what is left is the non-prep-way. For the months and years this was needed whenever we were using words like letzte, diese or nächste. Well … it is kind of the same as you already know:

  • Nächsten Donnerstag gehe ich auf ein Konzert.
  • Next Thursday, I will go to a concert.
  • Vorletzten Freitag habe ich 100 Euro gefunden.
  • The Friday before last Friday I found 100 Euro.
  • Diesen Mittwoch gehe ich auf den Wochenmarkt.
  • This Wednesday, I will go to the farmers market.

You can also use the prep-way if you feel like it, but the non-prep-way sounds better.
However, for the parts of the day it works a little differently… Why? Because there are actually real words for “last/next/this day”.

Yesterday… all my trouble seemed so far away

Those are really important words. Here they are.

  • gestern – yesterday
  • heute    – today
  • morgen – tomorrow

Now some of you may be like “Wait a second, I thought morgen means morning? That is freaking confusing…” Well, it is that way. Morgen can mean either one… I mean taking a closer look you will see that morgen as tomorrow is an adverb while der Morgen is a noun and hence capitalized but … that doesn’t really help. In reality it is the structure that makes it clear.

  • In the morning I eat bread.
  • Am Morgen esse ich Brot.
  • Morgens esse ich Brot
  • Morgen  esse ich Brot.
  • Tomorrow I’ll eat bread.

So in the last sentence it is just morgen… no s, no preposition, no article… and that is a clear sign that it means tomorrow. However, this double meaning of morgen/Morgen does lead to some funny things, that might be confusing to a student.

  • Heute Morgen habe ich Brot gegessen.
  • This morning I ate bred.

Or even better:

  • Gestern Morgen habe ich Brot gegessen.

or evener betterer:

  • Morgen Morgen fahre ich nach Berlin.
  • Tomorrow morning I will travel to Berlin.

This sounds so stupid that German has come up with a workaround. Instead of using Morgen as morning people use the word früh.

  • Morgen früh fahre ich nach Berlin.
  • Gestern früh hatte ich Bauchschmerzen.
  • Yesterday morning I had tummy ache.

That does sound better than the morgen Morgen, gestern Morgen nonsense :).

Alright… so now, when you want to say this morning or last night in German you use gestern or heute rather than letzte or diese. In English you have the same thing with tomorrow. You don’t say next morning when you mean tomorrow morning. So in German all works like that.

  • Gestern Abend                – last night
  • Heute früh/Morgen   – this morning
  • Morgen Nacht                – tomorrow night
  • Gestern Nachmittag  – yesterday afternoon
  • Heute Vormittag          – today morning /this morning

By the way … German doesn’t have a word for tonight. Can you guess how it’s done? Exactly

  • Heute Abend/Nacht     – tonight

Now earlier… much earlier actually we learned about the convenient  vor/über game… this is also used here.

  • vorgestern – the days before yesterday
  • vorvorgestern – … you know
  • übermorgen – the day after tomorrow
  • überübermorgen – the day after the day after tomorrow

And of course you can use those with the parts of the day…

  • Ich war vorgestern Abend in einer coolen Bar.
  • I was in a cool bar 2 nights ago.

Alright… I think that is pretty much it… oh we have a call …. Piotr from Poland, hi Piotr still concentrated?
“Haha, yeah I am getting a bit tired I have to admit, very interesting show though…”
Cool, so what can I do for you?
“So I have a question about the letzte, diese, nächste… can those be used with the parts of the day also… I mean like… would that be the same as heute, gestern, morgen?”
Wow, that’s a really good question… so you want to know if

  • Letzten Nachmittag

is the same as

  • Gestern Nachmittag.

Well… no it is not the same… I think it depends a bit on the region, so for some parts of Germany it might be but I would suggest not to do it and use letzte  diese and nächste only for the more open references…
“Ah you mean like for instance the last morning of a series of mornings?”
Right, right…
“So that would be for example

  • Letzten Abend vor ihrer Heimreise war Olga sehr traurig.
  • The last evening before her journey home, Olga was very sad.


  • Auf der Party gab es extrem viel Wodka. Nächsten Morgen hatte Sergej einen Kater.
  • At the party, there was an insane amount of vodka. The next morning, Sergej had a hangover.”

Yes exactly… so when you use letzte or nächste to refer to some day after some day.. shit… I don’t really know how to say this, anyway… you examples were great but there was a mistake in there because you actually need a preposition there… like Am nächsten Morgen and Am letzten Abend.
“Oh really? But I thought this is the non-prep-way, because we’re using letzte and nächste…”
Yeah I said that… this here is kind of an exception. Or actually it is a new rule… like when you use nächste and letzte in relation to NOW it will be without preposition, and if you’re using nächste or so to make reference to some other day you actually MUST use a preposition.
“Wow, that’s confusing.”
Yeah I know. I feel really bad, but this talking about time stuff just not very orderly and it is really hard find a clear path through it…
“Hahaha… yeah and when you have a path then you have exceptions growing left and right like mushrooms after a rain.”
Hahahaha… no man, you have to think that as flowers… beautiful, well smelling,  flowers that make the path all the more worth walking.
“.. truly exceptional flowers so to speak  … “
Hahaha… yeah man… hey.. uhm… it was a real pleasure talking to you and thank you for your question, because I would have probably forgotten about that but my producer is pointing to his watch like crazy and I think I need to wrap this up.
“Oh… so you’ll do the all the soon, later, sometimes, shortly and other words next time?”
Yeah man I am sorry…
“Oh don’t worry… I don’t think I could handle more input anyways.”
Alright, cool, then take care man ..
“Yeah you too, bye (Hanging up)”

Wew… so… that was a very long show. We basically talked about how to use time nouns in German. One way is to use a preposition, an or in, and case 3 , a second way is to use letzte, nächste or diese together with case 4 , when used in relation to NOW. For the days and their parts we had a third way, the s-way which had an edge toward a more general statement and we learned about heute, gestern and morgen, and how to use these…. aaaaannnd, we had a bunch of exceptions and I am sure we missed out on a bunch of other exceptions but if you stumble upon one of those… remember, it’s a flower. Pick it :).
Next time we’ll look at the other time names and we’ll look at how to say ago, until, since and for and all those and I promise… from now on it gets less and less tiring.
If you have any questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see oyu next time.