Time To Learn About Time

As I mentioned in this post, the Romanian day is divided somewhat differently that in other places, with morning ending before noon and evening, more or less, beginning at dusk.

These are critically important when referring to times.

Maine (mwee-nay) – Tomorrow
Ieri (yair) – Yesterday

Astazi (ah-stoz) – Today

Although this doesn’t immediately appear to be devolved from Latin, it is. It stands for a contraction of “asta ziua“, which means “this day”. Due to what’s known as a consonant shift, some Latin words borrowed from Greek (such as dies for “day”, same as dia in several Romance languages) beginning with “d” have shifted to “z” in Romanian.

Another example is “god”, which in Romanian is “zeu”, more similar to Greek “Zeus” than Latin “deus”, or Spanish “dios”, etc.

Azi (oz) – Also means “today”, used especially in Moldova but also throughout Romania, this is a contraction of “astazi”, itself a contraction (see above).

Dimineata (dee-me-knotza) – Morning
Miezul Zilei (me-ehz-ool zee-lay) – Noon (literally “the middle of the day”)
Miezul Noapte (me-ehz-ool nwop-tay) – Midnight – (literally “the middle of the night”)

You might remember seara means “evening”.

But let’s look at a few other time word combinations:

Tomorrow morning – maine dimineata
Tomorrow evening – maine seara
Yesterday morning – ieri dimineata

So far, so good, right? But…

Yesterday evening – azi noapte

As a commenter astutely pointed out, this is a holdover from the Roman concept of time, in which evening time (dusk) is when a new day began, not the modern concept that evening comes at the end of a day.

Therefore this literally mean’s “today’s night” but means, “the night that began today, aka yesterday evening or last night in modern terms.”

Ok, deep breaths, so far so good. But what’s this?

Afternoon – dupa amiaza.

Ok, not so bad, it means “after the mid-day meal”. In fact, in many places saying dupa amiaza sounds stilted and formal, and a more common variant is dupa masa, literally meaning “after the meal”.

Note: Because the afternoon meal is usually held at 1:00 or 2:00 pm rather than noon sharp, in some cases a Romanian saying “after the meal” may refer to different things.

This morning – astazi/azi dimineata – Literally “the morning of today”.

Tonight however is diseara (dee-sah-rah).

Now let’s hit some more basics:

Secunda (seh-coon-duh) – Second
Minut – (me-noot) – Minute
Ora – (oh-rah) – Hour

But wait a second! There’s a Slavic variant used throughout Romania, which is known as the ceas, borrowed directly from the Russian час, which also means “hour”.

Let’s look at a dialog:

You: Cat timp ati asteptat?(How much time did you wait?)
Daciana: Doua ore. (Two hours)


You: Cat timp ati asteptat? (How much time did you wait?)
Olga: Doua ceasuri. (Two hours).

In fact, in standard prestige dialect Romanian, this is correct in all situations:

Cat e ceasul? (kuht-aye choss-ool) – What time is it?

Literally this means “how much is the ceas”, where ceas means “hour”.

Note: You might remember this word also from my post on taxis. That’s because ceas also means a literal clock as well. It therefore sometimes refers to things that measure, hence the taxi meter is also called a ceas. It also means a “wrist-watch” as well.

In Romania the 24-hour or “military” clock is in use on almost all signage for clarity’s sake. People in Romania, when speaking, however rarely speak this way and instead use just the first 12, specifying whether it is in the morning or evening.

Let’s use a few examples:

You: Cand? (When?)
Bogdan: La cinci. (At five).
You: Cand? (When?)
Bogdan: La cinci dupa masa (Five pm).


Bogdan: La cinci dimineata (5 am).

When you ask someone “cat e ceasul?”, they’re going to use the standard European model of plus/minus.

4:40 – Described as “five minus 20” (cinci fara doua zeci)
5:00 – Cinci
5:20 – Described as “five plus 20” (cinci si doua zeci)

Got it? Imagine it’s 9:57 on the clock. This would be described as “ten minus three”.

Additionally, every 15 minutes is un sfert (oon-sfairt), meaning literally “a fourth”, as in a fourth of an hour.

4:40 – Five minus 20 (cinci fara doua zeci)
4:45 – Five minus a fourth (cinci fara un sfert)
5:00 – Cinci
5:15 – Five plus a fourth (cinci si un sfert)
5:20 – Five plus 20 (cinci si doua zeci)

Days of the Week

Luni – (loon) – Monday (Moon)
Marti – (marts) – Tuesday (Mars)
Miercuri – (me-air-cur) – Wednesday (Mercury)
Joi – (joy) – Thursday (Jupiter)
Vineri – (vee-nair) – Friday (Venus)
Sambata – (sum-bot-tah) – Saturday (Saturn)
Duminica – (doom-in-a-cah) – Sunday (Sun)

Dialog frenzy!

Rares – Cand ne mai intalnim? (When do we meet again?)
You: – Miercuri seara la cinci (Wednesday night at five).

Some more vocab.

Saptamana (sup-tuh-muh-nuh) – Week.
Luna – (loon-uh) – Month. The plural is luni, which yes is pronounced exactly as the word for Monday.

Therefore: a fost trei luni de luni = it was three months of Mondays.

An (on) – Year.

Interestingly enough, the plural ani is pronounced exactly the same.

Romanians sometimes use a unique phrase to add an extra “emphasis” to years in the following manner:

You: Cat timp ati asteptat? (How much time did you wait?)
Daciana: Trei ani de zile. (Three years).

Literally that means “three years of days”. As I said, only with years is this custom generally used, saying “years of days” but that never stops me from messing with Romanians sometimes:

Me: Ti-am asteptat cinci minute de secunde! (We waited for you for five minutes of seconds).

Please don’t use that, btw as it’ll only confuse ’em ;)

There’s a very easy way to add the word “ago” to a unit of time, as in “five minutes ago” or “five months ago”.

All you do is add the word acum (ah-koom) at the beginning of the phrase.

Acum cinci minute – Literally “now five minutes” but meaning “five minutes ago”.

Some more oddities in Romanian time phrases:

a doua zi (ah dough-ah-zee) – This means “the next day” from the literal “at the second day”.

alaltaieri – (all-tuh yair) – This means “two days ago” from the literal “that other yesterday”.

poimaine – (poi mwee-neh) – The day after tomorrow.

intr-o buna zi (eentro-ah boo-nah zee) – This means “one day” as in “one day we’ll have world peace” from the literal “in/on a good day”.

din tuturor timpurilor (deen tutu-roar teempur-ee-lore) – This means “of all time”, as in “the strongest man of all time”. Literally it means “of, of the alls, of the times” due to Romanian noun declensions ;;)

zori de zi – (zore day zee) – Dawn. This one is fun because the word zori is borrowed from Srpski in this instance and it does indeed also mean “dawn” so this becomes “dawn of the day”.

amurg – (ah-murrg) – Twilight. You can smell the Slavic on that one, I hope ;) I only know this word, by the way, due to a certain series of vampire books, serendipitously enough.

And last but not least, the cel mai important (the most important) Romanian unique time phrase of them all:

La multi ani – (lah-mooltz-on)

Folks, I’m ashamed to admit it took me about two years to figure out what the #!&*$ this phrase meant, so I’m hereby sparing you a lot of mental agony.

Literally it means “to many years” and is definitely some kind of salutation. I first got a New Year’s Card from a Romanian friend of mine with the expression la multi ani inside.

Okay, I figured it means “Happy New Year”, which made sense, with the word “year” in there and all.

Then I got to attend a lot of birthday parties in Romania and everyone would scream la multi ani. Well it isn’t New Year’s this time, but their way of saying “Happy Birthday”.

Then later I got to spend time around some married couples and when their wedding anniversary came up, people would all shout la multi ani as well.

In fact, I came to find out that la multi ani is not just an all purpose greeting but is also the title of several extremely traditional songs, including one usually used for birthdays. You can hear it here in its most common, speaker-warbling version (at minute 3:00 with awesome footage of a real wedding!) or here for the angelic choir version. Ahh… so gorgeous.

So there you go, it’s used for weddings as well. In fact, come to think of it, if it’s pretty much any kind of celebration or holiday, just say la multi ani and you’re covered!


8 thoughts on “Time To Learn About Time

  1. ‘ani de zile’ is used quite often but I’ve never heard ‘minute de secunde’. Is this something specific to Ardeal?


    1. No, it isn’t. That’s why I said:

      Ti-am asteptat cinci minute de secunde! (We waited for you for five minutes of seconds).

      Please don’t use that, btw as it’ll only confuse ’em



  2. It’s astonishing how difficult Romanian actually is. I’ve learned English, French and Spanish (in this order) and never given much thought to the details or how things fit because of the Franco-Spanish similarities to Romanian (they just made sense) or the (relative) simplicity of the English language. Thanks for putting it in perspective; it really shows how much more we should appreciate foreigners learning our language. After the mandatory snickering and muffled laughter :D. Also you have a spelling mistake as the word is ‘alaltaieri’ (hope you don’t mind me pointing it out).

    With regards to La multi ani (LMA in Internets-speak), it just shows how Romanians are huge Star Trek fans (hint: really really geeky joke).


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