In English, we have a "time to [A]" phrase that indicates something like "now is the appropriate moment to [A]" or "now is the moment at which [A] will happen".

Examples include, "Time to go", "Time to sleep", "Time to shower", "Time to set this project aside", "Time to die", "Time to live", etc.

Given that “的” can be used to form adjectival phrases and that “时候” seems to represent a point in time, my first notion would be to use “[A]的时候”, but that is the same construction to mean "when [A]". I could see that context could be used to distinguish the two notions, but from my experience "[A]的时候" is taken to mean "when" rather than "time to [A]". (I can see why "[A]的时候" means "when" as it appears to more literally mean "[at] [A]'s point in time")

I have also thought of "[A]的时间", but then "时间" is more of a continuous time period, rather than a point in time. Though, it can be used to refer to a definite "clock time", which has a point-like quality to it (as in "什么时间?").

When using Google translate (which I don't trust for something that is this idiomatic), it seems to suggest a few patterns:

  • 【该[A]了】: 该走了, 该洗澡了 (which I understand to more literally mean "[I/you/we] should do [A] now")
  • 【是时候[A]了】: 是时候睡觉了, 是时候将该项目搁置一旁了 (which I understand to more literally mean "now is the point in time to do [A]")
  • 【[A]时间】: 死亡时间, 生存时间 (which I understand to more literally mean "time period to [A]", rather than "now is the moment at which we [A]")

Assuming that I am interpreting the literal meanings correctly (please correct me if I am wrong), I can see that the different patterns do seem to approximate the nuances encoded in the various "time to [A]" expressions in English, to various degrees of accuracy. However, given the idiomatic nature of this expression I need more guidance to know which Chinese expression(s) to use (if any).

My question: is there a single Chinese equivalent to "time to [A]", are there multiple situation-dependent equivalents (like the different patterns from Google translate), or is such a set expression not used/common in Chinese for this purpose?


I don't think there's a fixed expression to reliably translate "time to X".

According to the context, there's a few ways to go about it, that I can think of right now.

Broader actions

When X is broad in scope, and the "time" period you are talking about doesn't mean necessarily right now, you can use 时刻. It often translates to "the time to X":

this is the time to invest in renewable energy


Actionable right now

When X is an action narrower in scope, and "time to X" means that right now is the time to do it, you can use “X的时间到了”:

It's time to go eat something



When X is something that you are suggesting to do, you can use “X了吧” (no "time" word necessary; modal 了 is enough):

it's time I go take a shower


it's time to leave this place


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  • Based on your and Pedroski's answers and as I think more about the phrase "time to [A]", I am realizing that it has so many nuances in English that the relevant expressions in Chinese almost cannot be but situation-dependent. That is, it would be almost impossible for two quite distinct cultures to have an almost identical expression with exactly the same very varied nuances in various situations. – 2ndQuantized Aug 3 at 17:45
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    @2ndQuantized yes, perfect 1-to-1 translations that account for all nuances are very rare in two languages as different as English and Chinese are. – blackgreen Aug 3 at 18:24

I think you can go with 该。

Time to go!

Time to die! (Shades of Blade Runner!)

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  • Does 该死了 have more of the connotation of "should die now"? I agree that one use of "Time to die!" could have this connotation (such as in the context of saying it to an enemy), but I can also see the context of a group of soldiers about to go into a battle where they are likely to die; when one of them says "time to die" and then gets up to enter the battle, it has more of a connotation of "let's go face our deaths". – 2ndQuantized Aug 3 at 17:41
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    Of course, the context and tone of voice in which anything is said is very important. Does "Great!" mean 'very good' or 'terrible'? – Pedroski Aug 3 at 21:03

You could use 要 or 該 to represent "Time to A".

Time to sleep: 要睡覺了 該睡覺了

Time to leave here or go to somewhere: 該走了 要走了

In certain contexts, 去 also means "Time to A". E.g 去睡覺 去洗澡

But 該走了 can't use 去 to replace 該. 去走了 is incorrect.

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