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Aspects of time


Use 'il y a' to express 'ago' for an action that is completed (although voilà can be used instead informally):
Il y a combien de temps? / il y a combien de temps (de cela)? = How long ago?
Il y a combien de temps que c'est arrivé? = How long ago did it happen?
Il y a trois semaines = three weeks ago
J'étais malade il y a une semaine = I was ill a week ago
Je suis arrivé voilà trois jours = I arrived three days ago

Have or had been doing something for n weeks/days/years/hours etc.

You use the present tense because it is still happening:
Depuis = since
Il y a + time + que = ago (informal)
Ça fait + time + que (informal)
Voilà + time + que (informal)

-Depuis combien de temps habitez-vous ici? = How long have you been living here?
-J'habite ici depuis deux ans = I have been living here for two years (the present tense shows that you still are living here)

-Depuis quand Magalie joue-t-elle du piano? = Since when has Magalie been playing the piano
-Elle joue de piano depuis mars = She's been playing since March

-Il y a longtemps qu'ils viennent venir? = Have they been wanting to come for a long time?
-Ça fait deux ans qu'il essaient de faire le voyage = They have been trying to take the trip for two years

Vous habitez ici depuis longtemps? = Have you lived here for a long time?

Uses with the imperfect tense
This can express 'had' or 'had been doing'.
Use this tense to express something that began further back in time and continued in the more recent past:
J'habitais à Paris depuis trois ans = I had been living in Paris for three years (and I still was)
Elle était malade depuis 2008 = She had been ill since 2008
Il y avait assez longtemps qu'ils instruisaient leurs enfants à la maison = They had been educating their childred at home for quite a long time
J'y étais depuis quatre jours
il y avait quatre jours que j'étais là
} I had been there for four days
On s'appelait beaucoup plus souvent depuis que ses enfants avaient quitté l'école = We called each other more often since their children had left school
Just to clarify the above, the 'had' tense (pluperfect) is used when something happened further back in time to another action that you have been talking about. The children left school first, then the calling each other happened afterwards.

BUT if the sentence is negative OR complete, use a 'had done' construction (technically called the pluperfect) with avoir or être (avais, étais etc.):
(negative) Voilà deux ans que il n'avait pas écrit son livre = He hasn't written his book for two years
(complete) Il y avait trois heures qu'elles étaient arrivées = They (all females) had arrived three hours before (since they are females, make arrivé feminine and plural - arrivées)
Note that il y a has been changed to the imperfect - il y avait ... which just so happens to look like il avait fait = he had done.

A note about the word depuis
Depuis can be used in the present or the past. It is used to describe something that started in the past up to the point you are talking about (past or present). This word has two main meanings:
Expressing duration
You can describe something that has been happening for a period of time:
J'attends depuis une heure = I have been waiting for an hour (since one hour ago)
Il est parti depuis hier = He has been away since yesterday
Or you can informally use Il y a ... que, ça fait ... que , and voilà ... que just for this type of meaning
Il y a une heure 
Ça fait une heure 
Voilà une heure 
}que j'attends

Expressing a start point
Depuis can show when something started when you use another part of the sentence which is an event or something happened at a certain point in time:
Je suis malade depuis mon arrivée = I've been ill since I arrived (since my arrival)
Depuis hier, je suis malade = I've been ill since yesterday
Il a neigé tous les jours depuis que je suis arrivé = It has snowed every day since I arrived
Expressing... A start point    a length of time Ago
Depuis or Il y a? depuis depuis il y a
Present or past? present / past present past
Refers to ... a point in time
(and continuing)
a length of time
(and continuing)
A completed period of time
ça fait + time + que
il y a + time + que
voilà + time + que

Venir de
Note the uses with the indicative and imperfect tenses:
Je viens de manger = I have just eaten (recently)
Je venais de manger = I had just eaten (I think this means in the distant past)

It is / was the first time that...

Use c'est and the next verb in the present tense (which may translate to a past tense in English):
C'est la première fois que je viens ici = It's the first time I've come here
C'est la première fois que je pense à respirer
C'est la première fois que j'ai autant de potentiel dans mes écuries

Use c'était with the past tenses:
C'était la première fois que j'ai vu la mer
C'était la première fois que je voyais quelqu'un a une mise en bière
C'était la première fois que je trompais mon mari

En / dans

There is a difference between these words when talking about time.
En is used for lengths of time (then you usually have the verb in the past or present).
J'ai appris à jouer du piano en un an = I learned how to play the piano in a year
Je peux faire la lessive en une heure = I can do the washing in an hour (it will take one hour to do it)
Il le fera en cinq jours = he will do it in five days (it will take five days to do it) - the verb is in the future in this example

Dans is used to show how much time will pass before an event happens (then you usually have the verb in the present or future, ether with 'aller' or the future tense).
Je pars dans cinq minutes = I'm leaving in five minutes (verb is in the present)
Je vais le voir dans trois jours = I'm going to see him in three days time

[ENGLISH]Have you found an error or do you want to add more information to these pages?
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