Durations of Time in Spanish

Durations of Time in Spanish

Spanish has several ways of describing how long an event or activity occurs. Which you use depends partly on whether the activity is still in progress, and in some cases on whether you're talking about a long or short time period.

The most common way of describing the length of time of an activity in progress is using the verb llevar. Note the use of the present tense in these examples even though the English uses a present perfect or present perfect progressive verb.

  • El bloguero ya lleva un año encarcelado. The blogger has already been incarcerated for a year.
  • El cantante lleva cinco años esperando para grabar bachata con el ex Beatle. The singer has been waiting for five years to record bachata with the former Beatle.
  • Mi hijo de dos años lleva un mes con mucosidad y tos. My 2-year-old son has had a runny nose and cough for a month.
  • La mujer lleva cinco semanas en huelga de hambre. The woman has been on a hunger strike for five weeks.
  • Nuestro país lleva muchos años en proceso de deterioro. Our country has been deteriorating for many years.

You may be tempted to use the preposition para, usually translated as "for," in sentences like the above, but its use is limited to being part of a phrase that acts like an adjective, especially one that refers to how long something lasts or is used.

  • Las ensaladas son las mejores opciones para un día de piscina. Salads are the best choices for a day at the pool.
  • Tenemos una dieta completa para una semana. We have a complete diet for a week.
  • Los Cavaliers han llegado a un acuerdo para dos años con el atleta. The Cavaliers have reached a two-year agreement with the athlete.

The construction "hacer + time period + que" can be used much like llevar above in translating sentences using "ago." The verb following que is in the present tense if the action is continuing to now:

  • Hace tres años que juega para los Piratas de Campeche. He has been playing for three years for the Campeche Pirates.
  • Hace dos horas que estoy sentada en mi cama. I have been seated on my bed for two hours.
  • ¡Hace una semana que no fumo! I haven't smoked for a week!

If the event no longer continues, the verb following que is usually in the preterite:

  • Hace un año que fui a mi primer concierto. A year ago I went to my first concert.
  • Hace un minuto que estuviste triste. You were sad a minute ago.
  • Hace pocos meses que Imagine Dragons pasaron por Argentina. A few months ago Imagine Dragons passed through Argentina.

Just as para has limited use with durations of time, so does por. Por is almost always used with brief periods of time or to suggest that the period of time might be less than expected:

  • La economía está pasando por un momento de transición. The economy is passing through a moment of transition.
  • Creí por un segundo que me amabas. For a second I thought you loved me.
  • Precalienta el plato en un horno microondas por solo un minuto. Preheat the plate in a microwave oven for just a minute.