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hace tiempo / hace tiempo que / hace tiempo desde (que)

Despite being one of the very first things we learn in Spanish grammar, time expressions with hacer tend to cause problems. This is partly due to regional differences in usage as well as the numerous word combinations and alternatives that we can use to express a single idea.1

 

Although there are usually several possible ways of referring to the past, they are not completely synonymous. As discussed previously, word order plays an important role in the way the listener interprets the information presented. 

 

Hace with preterite

1. preterite+hace tiempo (al revés →hace tiempo+preterite) 2. hace tiempo que+preterite (3. hace tiempo+desde que preterite -less common and not generally taught)

a)

1.Empecé a aprender español en Sevilla hace unos cinco años — I started learning Spanish in Seville about five years ago

Hace unos cinco años, empecé a aprender español en Sevilla — About five years ago, I started learning Spanish in Seville [With 'hace cinco años' at the head of the sentence, the speaker sets the time-frame; the listener probably didn't know that the person started learning Spanish in Seville]

2. Hace unos cinco años que empecé a aprender español. Apenas tenía 18 años — It was about five years ago that I started learning Spanish. I was barely 18 years old [By adding 'que' we focus on how long ago something happened; in this case the listener probably already knows he started learning Spanish at some point]

(3. Hace unos cinco años desde que empecé a aprender español, y todavía no entiendo nada — It's been about five years since I started learning Spanish, and I still don't understand anything [Focus on the time past since then; less common and not generally taught])

b) 

1. Abrí una cuenta en España hace seis meses — I opened an account in Spain six months ago

Hace seis meses abrí una cuenta en España — Six months ago I opened an account in Spain [What did you do six months ago?]

2. Hace seis meses que abrí esa cuenta — It was six months ago that I opened that account [How long ago did you open the account?]

(3.  Hace seis meses desde que abrí esa cuenta — It's been six months since I opened that account [How long has it been since you opened the account?; less common])

 

Hace de + noun/pronoun

-Hace un año de su muerte — It's been a year since her death

-De eso hace mucho tiempo — That was a long time ago

 

 

Hace with imperfect

To talk about past situations or habits viewed from the present, we can use hace with the imperfect.

If you want to say that the situation/habit has changed, then you could add 'hasta' to indicate that it was the case up until a certain point. In the second construction presented, the present tense of the verb must be negated to show that the event no longer happens.

 1. imperfect+hace tiempo (al revés →hace tiempo+imperfect): 2. hace tiempo (desde) que+no+present

1. Ese país era un lugar seguro (hasta) hace unos años — That country was a safe place (until) a few years ago

→(Hasta) hace unos años, ese país era un lugar seguro — (Up until) a few years ago, that country was a safe place

 

2. Hace unos años (desde) que ese país no es un lugar seguro — It's been a few years since that country was safe 

→Ese país no es seguro desde hace unos años — That country hasn't been safe for a few years

 

 

1. -Juan y yo tomábamos café juntos en ese bar hace unos años — Juan and I used to have coffee together in that bar a few years ago

Hace unos años, Juan y yo tomábamos café juntos en ese bar

 

2. -Hace unos años que no tomamos café juntos

Hace/hacía unos años que no tomábamos café juntos [Estamos tomando uno ahora]

 

 

Hace with the present

Here we have one of the big differences between English and Spanish. In English, we must always use the present or past perfect when talking about events that continue through time until the present/past anchor point, e.g. 'I have known Juan for five years' (not I know him for five years??).

Particularly with state verbs, such as conocer, ser, tener, etc., this is the standard way of expressing the present/past perfect for events that continue up until the present or a past anchor point. As discussed below, with temporary situations or continual activities the llevar+gerundio construcion is generally favoured in spoken Spanish. 

1. present + desde hace tiempo 2. hace tiempo+que+present 3. present +desde+noun/que 

1. Conozco a Juan desde hace más de cinco años — I've known Juan for more than five years 

2. Hace más de cinco años que conozco a Juan

3. Conozco a Juan desde 1999 / desde que era pequeño — I've known Juan since he was a child

[4. Conozco a Juan hace más de cinco años** -although not generally taught, this construction is heard in spoken Spanish]

 

¿Cuánto (tiempo) hace que tienes ese móvil? — How long have you had that mobile?

→Lo tengo desde hace un año — I've had it for a year

Hace un año que lo tengo

 

In the negation, both the present simple and the present perfect (perfecto compuesto) can usually be used. The present simple may imply absence of a habitual action or state, while the present perfect may just refer to a single occasion/instance. Additionally, in the negation, desde is omitted more frequently.

-No nos vemos (desde) hace mucho tiempo — We haven't seen each other for a long time [This could mean that we no longer see each other in general]

→No nos hemos visto desde hace mucho tiempo [This sounds more like a specific occasion, i.e. not once]

-Hace mucho tiempo que no nos vemos — It's been a long time since we (last) saw each other [Most common option]

Hace tiempo que no nos vemos visto 

 

No trabajo para él (desde) hace un par de meses — I haven't worked for him for a couple of months [This could mean that I no longer work for him in general]

→No he trabajado para él desde hace un par de meses [May refer to a one-off job]

Hace un par de meses que no trabajo para él — It's been a couple of months since I (last) worked for him [Most common option]

Hace un par de meses que no he trabajado para él 

 

Llevar+gerundio

When referring to activities or actions that continue through time until the present, the construction llevar+gerundio is usually far more idiomatic in conversational Spanish in Spain. It can usually be translated using the English present perfect continuous, e.g. llevo un año viviendo aquí = I have been living here for a year.

In English, we use the perfect continuous (instead of the perfect simple) to convey continuity and to emphasize that it's a transitory state. 

-Hace un año que estudio español — I've been studying Spanish for a year [This sounds more permanent and slightly more formal]

Llevo un año estudiando español / llevo estudiando español un año [This sounds more progressive and more informal]

 

-Hace una semana que conozco a Juan — I've known Juan for a week

Llevo una semana conociendo a Juan y tengo la sensación de no saber nada de él — I've been getting to know Juan for a week, and I get the feeling that I know nothing about him [In this example, we can clearly see the difference between the present simple, which describes a state/habit, and the 'llevar+gerundio' construction, which describes an ongoing action or activity]

 

Similar to English, verbs like 'trabajar' and 'vivir' can be used in either construction with minimal difference in meaning; they are lasting, atelic activities (not delimited) that tend to be relatively permanent in any case.

-Hace un mes que vive aquí — He's lived here for a month

Lleva un mes viviendo aquí— He's been living here for a month [Sounds more temporary and informal]

 

-Hace dos años que trabajo para esta empresa — I've worked for this company for two years

Llevo dos años trabajando para esta empresa — I've been working for this company for two years [Sounds more progressive and more temporary]

However, when referring to a temporary ongoing activity, llevar+gerundio is usually far more natural. In this case, llevar+gerundio may alternate with estar+gerundio. As discussed previously, llevar+gerundio focuses on, and requires, a period of time that will likely continue beyond the present; estar+gerundio focuses more on the ongoing temporary action in the present, and doesn't require the time period.

-Llevo una hora trabajando en esto — I've been working on this for an hour [More common]

Hace una hora que trabajo en esto?? [This sounds unnatural since 'trabajo' would imply a more lasting/habitual event]

→(Hace una hora que) estoy trabajando en esto [Less common; focuses more on the activity than the time]

 

-Debo irme, Juan lleva una hora esperándome [Focus more on the time; more common in spoken Spanish]

→Juan me espera/está esperando ((desde) hace una hora)) [Focus more on the ongoing activity; less common]

 

In the negation, the construction is llevar+sin+infinitivo.

-Hace una semana que no nos vemos

Llevamos una semana sin vernos

 

In the past, llevar+gerundio can only be used with the imperfect. This is because it describes and ongoing event rather than a delimited one. For an event seen as completed or delimited by a specific time, the preterite can be used with estar+gerundio/adjetivo.2

-La tienda llevaba un año abierta — The shop had been open for a year [llevó un año abierta; estuvo un año abierto]

-Llevábamos años intentando convencerlo — We had been trying to convince him for years [Estuvimos x años intentando]

 

Hacía with past perfect

When referring to a previous past event seen from the past, both English and Spanish use the past perfect (pluscuamperfecto). The construction is the same as the preterite except we use hacía instead of hace.

-Conocí a Juan hace cinco años  

→Dijo que lo había conocido hacía cinco años  — He said he had met him five years before/earlier/prior

→Dijo que hacía cinco años que lo había conocido —He said that it had been five years since he met him

Dijo que lo había conocido cinco años atrás/antes [Alternative]

 

Hacía with imperfect

When referring to an action/situation that was in progress at a particular point in the past, we can use the imperfect with hacía. In this case, desde tends to be omitted in spoken Spanish. Once again, llevar+gerundio usually sounds more idiomatic when translating the past perfect continuous.

-Conozco a Juan desde hace más de cinco años 

Conocía a Juan (desde) hacía cinco años cuando nos casamos — I had known Juan for five years when we got married

Hacía más de cinco años que conocía a Juan cuando nos casamos

 

-Vivo aquí desde hace un mes

Vivía allí (desde) hacía un mes cuando lo conocí — I had been living there for a month when I met him

Hacía un mes que vivía allí cuando lo conocí

→→Llevaba (viviendo) allí un mes cuando lo conocí [Preferred in spoken Spanish]

 

 

Hizo, hará, haría

Although hace and hacía are by far the most common conjugations for time expressions, we may choose to use the future (haré), the preterite (hizo), or the conditional (haría) in certain contexts.

-¿Cuánto hace que estáis casados? -Pues, hará 14 años [Debe de hacer 14 años; futuro de conjetura]

-Mañana hará diez años de la muerte de Juan 

-Ayer hizo diez años de la muerte de Juan [Se cumplieron 10 años]

-Es ese momento haría poco más de 14 años que estábamos casados [Condicional de conjetura]

 

See previous dicussion for use of the present perfect (perfecto compuesto) in Spanish.

 

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-hace hace que hace desde que y llevar gerundio-