(East African) Swahili time runs from dawn to dusk, rather than midnight to midday. 7am and 7pm are therefore both one o'clock while midnight and midday are six o'clock. Words such as asubuhi 'morning', jioni 'evening' and usiku 'night' can be used to demarcate periods of the day, for example:
More specific time demarcations include adhuhuri 'early afternoon', alasiri 'late afternoon', usiku wa manane 'late night/past midnight', 'sunrise' macheo and sunset machweo.
- saa moja asubuhi ('hour one morning') 7:00 a.m.
- saa tisa usiku ('hour nine night') 3:00 a.m.
- saa mbili usiku ('hour two evening') 8:00 p.m.
At certain times there is some overlap of terms used to demarcate day and night, e.g. 7:00 p.m. can be either saa moja jioni or saa moja usiku.
Other relevant phrases include na robo 'and a quarter', na nusu 'and a half', kasarobo/kasorobo 'less a quarter', and dakika 'minute(s)':
- saa nne na nusu ('hour four and a half') 10:30
- saa tatu na dakika tano ('hour three and minutes five') five past nine
- saa mbili kasorobo ('hour two less a quarter') 7:45
- saa mbili kasoro ('a few minutes to eight')
Swahili time derives from the fact that the sun rises at around 6am and sets at around 6pm everyday in most of the areas where Swahili speakers reside.