How to Tell Time PDF! (in Latin)

Downloadable PDF below!

In this introduction to telling time in Latin, I explain the Roman duodecimal system of twelfth parts and show how we use them to count every five minutes of the hour.  Enormous thanks to Justin Mansfield for teaching me these words and their usefulness to telling time!


11/12 deūnx            1/12 uncia 

10/12 dēxtāns         2/12 sextāns 

9/12 dōdrāns          3/12 quādrāns

8/12 bes                   4/12 triēns

7/12 septūnx           5/12 quīncūnx

                    6/12 sēmis


There are many ways to express time in Latin, and this is just one way. I find the duodecimal system of twelfth parts is exceedingly useful for two reasons:

1) When we ask the time, the response will overwhelmingly be "it's ten twenty" not "it's ten twenty one," or "it's six fifty-five" and not "it's six fifty-three." We naturally round to the nearest 5-minute mark, or twelfth part of the hour. Therefore, if the time is 8:35, we can say "hōra est octāva cum septunce" instead of the much longer and clumsier "hōra est octāva et trīgintā quīnque minūtae." Therefore the brevity and clarity has a practical purpose.

2) The reason to exercise speaking Latin, even at a very elementary level, is to allow the fundamental nature of the language to become part of who we are, so that when confronted with the literature we can more quickly, more fluently, more easily understand the text. And these words having to do with twelfth parts are infrequent enough that we don't usually every try to learn them outright, and yet common enough to add to our stumbling blocks when exploring a text. Thus, it is useful to become familiar with these words in a context that we use frequently on a daily basis, namely telling time.

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