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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Time: Saa Ngapi?

Time: Saa Ngapi?


There is a difference of 6 hours between the Swahili and European methods of counting time. Swahili time like Biblical time begins with sunrise, reckoned as 6 a.m. Thus 7 a.m., one hour after sunrise, is the first hour of daylight, saa moja. The counting continues up to 6 p.m., the 12th hour, saa kumi na mbili. Then the hours of the night are counted in the same way, 7 p.m. being saa moja, until 6 a.m., saa kumi na mbili.

To avoid confusion, a word such as asubuhi, morning; mchana, daytime; alasiri, afternoon; jioni, late afternoon before sunset; or usiku, night (the hours of darkness) may be added to indicate which hour you mean:
saa 12 asubuhi, 6 o'clock in the morning;
saa 12 jioni, 6 o clock in the evening.

A When telling time, the word saa is always included:

(Ni) saa ngapi? What time is it?
(Ni) saa mbili. Eight o clock.

B Kamili, complete, is used when telling the complete hour:
Saa saba kamili One o clock "sharp"

C There are two ways of telling the half-hour:
na nusu or u nusu.

You always tell the hour plus the half-hour:

Saa mbili na nusu half past eight
Saa mbili u nusu

D Robo, a quarter, is used when telling a quarter to or past the hour:

Saa nane na robo a quarter past two
Saa moja kasa robo a quarter to seven

E Dakika, minute, is used when telling minutes to or past the hour:

Saa tatu na dakika tano five minutes past nine
Saa tano na dakika ishirini twenty minutes past eleven
Saa tisa kasoro dakika kumi ten minutes to three
Saa kumi na moja kasoro dakika ishirini na tano twenty-five minutes to five

F Kasa and kasoro both mean "less, short of, lacking".

Kasa is used when telling "a quarter to...", and
Kasoro is used when telling the minutes before a complete hour.

G The European way of saying 2:35, 6:30, 8:45, etc. is heard among Swahili speakers nowadays, especially where some kind of timetable is involved. Thus one may hear:

Saa nane na dakika thelathini na tano
Saa kumi na mbili na dakika thelathini
Saa mbili na dakika arobaini na tano

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