Depuis, pour, pendant, dans, en, ça fait… which one do I use?
How long have you been studying French? I’ve been taking lessons for 5 years and I went to a French language school every week for 1 year!
How do you translate this simple question and reply without getting into a muddle? As you learn French, you will discover the “temporal prepositions” (pour, pendant, il y a, ça fait, etc…) and you will notice that they are used quite differently in French than in English. Using the wrong preposition can change the time period of your message, and thus may create real confusion. It is sometimes challenging to learn how to keep them all straight, but it is worth the time and effort. So how do they work and how do we use them?
Let’s first identify each preposition:
DEPUIS = indicates the origin of an action/a situation that is still continuing at the moment or that was still going on at the time something else happened. If the action is still current, you can simply conjugate the verb in the sentence in the present tense.
Example: Je suis ici depuis 2001 = I’ve been here since 2001
Example: Elle était prête depuis 3 heures quand je suis allée la chercher = She had been ready for 3 hours when I went to fetch/pick her up.
PENDANT = indicates the duration of an action/situation. It is mostly used when speaking in the past tense about an action that is over, but can also be used in the present when expressing a generality.
Example: Je suis restée en Angleterre pendant 5 jours = I stayed in England for 5 days.
Example: Je fais du jogging tous les matins pendant 30 minutes = I jog every morning for 30 minutes.
POUR = is used to project how long a specific action/situation will last in the future. You can conjugate the verb in the present if you’re speaking about schedules/timetables.
Example: Je reste en Angleterre pour 5 jours = I am staying in England for 5 days.
Note: The French will also use pendant in this case; either one is acceptable.
DANS = indicates the start of a specific action/situation which will take place in the future. Again, you may conjugate the sentence in the present when you’re speaking about timetables.
Example: Je vais en Angleterre dans 5 jours = I am going to England in 5 days.
EN = indicates the amount of time it takes to complete an action.
Example: Je fais mes devoirs en 1 heure = I do my homework in 1 hour.
IL Y A = an idiomatic expression meaning ‘ago’.
Example: Je suis venue en France il y a 5 ans = I came to France 5 years ago.
À = It is used to express the clock time at which an event occurs.
Example: J’ai rendez-vous à 10h = I have an appointment at 10 o’clock.
Note: We also use ça fait . . . que a lot to indicate ‘I’ve been.. or it’s been..’ !!
Example: Ça fait 5 ans que je suis en France = I’ve been in France for 5 years.
Let’s hope you are not still confused. It may be even clearer in the following real life situational scenarios. As many of you in our survey expressed the wish to have scenarios for beginners also, the first one is written for beginning-level language learners and the second for intermediate learners.