Hi, today I’m going to teach you a super simple way to say how long something will last in French. Forget all those complicated grammar rules that will only confuse you!
This lesson is for everyone, beginner learners, intermediate learners and even advanced learners, so let me show you what it’s like on the other side.
Summary table of the use of Depuis, Pendant, En, Il y a and Dans
|DEPUIS||PENDANT||EN||IL Y A||DANS|
|Continuity||Limited duration||Time required to perform an action||Moment in|
|As we speak, the action continues.||At the moment of speaking the action is finished.|
We are talking about a limited period in the future
We are talking about a general situation.
|We are talking about the time needed to accomplish the action.||We’re talking about something that happened.||We’re talking about something that’s going to happen.|
|Verb in the present or past tense.||Verb in the past, present or future tense.||Verb in the past, present or future tense.||Verb in the past tense.||Verb in the present or future tense.|
But let’s look at these prepositions of time to express duration in French in more detail.
We’ll start with a little diagram – a drawing – it’s always easier that way!
Where are you going to put the following words that express duration: il y a, dans, pendant, depuis and en?
For the number 1, what do you suggest? For the 2? Etc.
Don’t look at the answer key right away, but try to find the answer based on what you already know and the summary table above.
I will explain each preposition in detail and then I will post the correction.
French preposition of time: il y a
It expresses the same idea as « ago » in English.
Attention, we do not use a date with, but a duration between the date of the event and today.
- Il y a deux ans, je suis allé en vacances en Italie.
(Two years ago, I went on vacation to Italy.)
- Il y a cinq minutes, j’ai vu ton frère passer.
Five minutes ago, I saw your brother walk by
French preposition of time: depuis
Depuis expresses a duration that began in the past and continues as we speak.
Most of the time, depuis is used with a verb in the present tense, but it is also possible to have a verb in the past tense.
- Depuis six mois, je travaille nuit et jour.
For the past six months, I have been working night and day.
- Je l’attendais depuis une heure, quand il est enfin arrivé.
I was waiting for him for an hour, when he finally arrived.
- Depuis que je la connais, je suis de meilleure humeur.
Since I met her, I am in a better mood.
We can also use SINCE with a date. We will always express a duration but taking the given date as the starting point.
- Il travaille dans cette entreprise depuis 1998.
He has been working in this company since 1998.
French preposition of time: dans
Dans expresses the duration that separates an action between the present moment and a moment in the future.
The verb used will then be in the future tense (simple future or near future) or also in the present tense. You probably know that the present tense can be used with a future value.
- Dans deux heures j’aurai rendez-vous avec mon professeur.
In two hours I will have an appointment with my teacher.
- Dans six mois je partirai faire le tour du monde.
In six months I’ll go on a world tour.
French preposition of time: pendant
Pendant is the magic word to express a duration. You can use it in many situations, with verbs in all tenses.
⚠️ Be careful, because very often students use the word pour instead of pendant!
Pour expresses the goal.
- Tous les jours, je travaillais pendant quatre heures sur mon projet.
Every day, I worked for four hours on my project.
- L’an prochain, elle ira en Italie pendant six mois.
Next year, she will go to Italy for six months.
- Je peux regarder la mer pendant des heures.
I can look at the sea for hours.
French preposition of time: en
En is the most difficult preposition of duration to understand because of its particular use.
First, you know that the word en has multiple uses. It can be:
- A pronoun
- A preposition of time
- A preposition of place
Here, we are interested in the word en to indicate duration in French.
En gives us additional information to the simple indication of duration, it clearly expresses that 100% of the action of the verb has been performed.
For example, what is the difference between these two sentences:
- Anna a appris le français pendant six mois.
- Anna a appris le français en six mois.
In the first sentence, we just know that Anna has learned French for six months. But what is her level of French? We don’t know. Maybe she is A2, B1 or B2?
Whereas in the second sentence, we always know that the duration of learning French lasted six months but we also know that she finished learning! She knows all the French.
Anna is very strong! 😄
Correction of the pattern of prepositions of time to express duration in French
So? Did you get it right? 😀
If you want, you can download the Little Bonus PDF, in which you will find:
- the synthesis of this lesson,
- exercises to practice with the words of the duration,
- as well as the correction of the small dictation that you can hear in the video (you can see the video at the beginning of this page).
Yes, I know, a dictation… Pffff! But this way, you will be able to see, in situation, the words I just explained to you. It’s a great way for you to understand them, memorize them and then be able to use them without making mistakes.
And as always, the best way to improve your French is to speak as much as possible! Have confidence in your French and speak!
Ciao, see you soon 😃
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