Malagasy: Time

Telling time in Malagasy works in two overlapping different ways: there is the 12-hour time system (much as used in the United States, but not in U.S. military time), and there are five different general times of day:

maraina morning
atoandro mid-day/noon
tolakandro afternoon
hariva evening
alina night

Rather than the AM/PM system used in the American 12-hour time system, you add the time-of-day word to the clock time, e.g.,

Amin’ny enina hariva. (“It is 6 in the evening.”)

Amin’ny sivy maraina. (“It is 9 in the morning.”)

The exact cut-off for these times is loose, and varies seasonally – but the main thing is for the listener to be able to tell the approximate time of day. Just think of the different activities that would be linked to the time of day in a world before electric lighting.

In addition, there are three basic subdivisions of the hour, used with two words for adding and subtracting:

fahefany quarter
fahatelony third
sasary half
sy and/past
latsaka to [the next hour]/minus

Using these words in combination, you can produce the general time without having to spell out the numbers. Note that the time-of-day word goes last:

Amin’ny firy izao? What time is it right now?
Amin’ny enina sy fahefany hariva. It is 6 and a quarter [6:15] in the evening.
Amin’ny sivy maraina sy fahetelony.  It is 9 and a half [9:30] in the morning.

Here are some examples of how to use these with question-and-response:

Mihofa amin’ny firy iaona isananadro? What time do you wake up every day?
Mihofa amin’ny dimy maraina aho isananadro. I wake up every day at 5 in the morning.
Mandro amin’ny firy ianao isanandro? What time do you shower every day?
Mandro amin’ny dimy sy fahefany maraina aho isanandro. I shower at 5 and a quarter [5:15] in the morning everyday.
Mandro amin’ny dimy latsaka fahefany maraina aho isanandro. I shower at 5 minus a quarter [4:45] in the morning everyday.
Misakafao maraina amin’ny firy ianao? What time do you have breakfast? Maraina – morning
Misakafo maraina – to eat breakfast [literally, “to eat the meal for the morning”]
Misakafo maraina enina maraina na enina sy sasany aho isanandro. I eat breakfast at 6 AM or [at] 6:30 every day. Since two times are given, the “morning” (maraina) is only given after the first one; it is assumed that it applies to the second.

Going Further

Wondering why some of the different names for the times of day are similar?

Andro means day, but the “day” has only really arrived when it gets hot. Ato means “here”, so atoandro might be translated as “the day is here”. Toloko means “to cry out”, which in some contexts can mean “to make sweat”. So tolakandro might be more literally translated as “the sweaty part of the day” or “the part of the day that makes you cry [because it’s so hot]“!


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.