tomar, tardar, llevar + tiempo

When it comes to translating 'to take time' into Spanish, English-speaking learners often have difficulty distinguishing between the several possible translations. Bear in mind that usage varies depending on the country.


1) In Spain, tomar tiempo is generally only used in the expression tomarse (su) tiempo, as in 'to take time for oneself', where the subject is the person taking the time intentionally, usually in order to think something over or to avoid rushing into something.

In Latin America it is often used instead of llevar*; this can sound distinctly foreign to a Spaniard.1

-Tómate tu tiempo. No hay prisa — Take your time. There's no rush

-Se tomó un par de días para pensarlo bien — He took a couple of days to think it over


-*Arreglarlo me ha tomado (llevado) tres horas — It's taken me three hours to fix it

-*Puedo hacerlo, pero tomará (llevará) tiempo — I can do it, but it will take time


2) Llevar tiempo is the norm in Spain when talking about the time a particular thing takes (someone) to do. The person is the indirect object, and the thing taking/requiring the time (the subject) is generally external.

-(Me) llevó más de media hora arreglarlo— It took (me) more than half an hour to fix it [≈Tardé más de media hora en arreglarlo; with 'tardar' the focus is on the time required/spent by the person rather than the task]

-La cosecha (te) llevará unos cuantos días — The harvest will take (you) a few days


3) As discussed previously, tardar tiempo can be problematic since the pronominal form (tardarse) is sometimes used instead and can be used in pasiva refleja and impersonal constructions. The person taking the time is the subject, and the action/event that takes the time is preceded by the preposition en.

-Tardé una semana en llegar — It took me a week to get there [≠Llegar me llevó una semana??; sounds forced since the time was taken by the person rather than an external event]

-Tardamos dos semanas en terminarlo — It took us two weeks to finish it [≈Terminarlo nos llevó dos semanas; with 'llevar' the focus is on the time required by the task rather than the person]

Se tardó (se tardaron) dos semanas en terminarlo [Can agree with the time (pasiva refleja) or remain invariable (impersonal); note that the impersonal form is the most widely accepted and recommended2]

Tardar can also be used intransitively (without a direct object) to mean ' to take longer than required/expected'.

*As mentioned above, in some regions you will occasionally hear the pronominal version, tardarse, used with this meaning.2

-Tardé en llegar — I was late in arriving/It took me longer than expected to get there

-No tardes — Don't take too long /Don't be long

*-No me tardo. Esperame en la puerta — I won't be long. Wait for me at the door. [Normally 'No tardo']


4) When 'to take' means 'to require', requerir, necesitar, or hacer falta are often better translations.

-Prepararse las oposiciones requiere/lleva mucho tiempo  — Preparing for the exams takes a lot of time

-Hace falta/se requiere/se necesita mucho tiempo y dinero para hacer eso — You need/ It takes a lot of time and money to do that


5) 'To take up time' is usually best translated as quitar tiempo or ocupar tiempo.

-No quisiera quitarte/robarte más tiempo — I wouldn't want to take up more of your time

-Esas tareas me ocupan/quitan tiempo — Those chores take up my time

-tomar, tardar, llevar tiempo-