Time Expressions with Hacer

       

You probably already know that the verb hacer means "to make" or "to do," but did you also know that it is used in a number of expressions dealing with time?

How to Say "Ago" in Spanish

"Ago" is an adverb that doesn't translate directly in Spanish. If you want to say "ago" in Spanish, you need to follow this formula:

preterite tense + hace + period of time

Instead of "ago" you are literally saying "it makes [period of time]." Some examples:

Él terminó hace dos horas.
He finished two hours ago.

Ella salió hace una semana.
She left a week ago.

Mi perro se murió hace unos años.
My dog died several years ago.

You may also see or hear sentences that start with hace and include the word que. They are translated the same way:

Hace unos años que mi perro se murió.
My dog died several years ago.

The Present Perfect Continuous

What on earth is the "present perfect continous"? It's a sentence that includes something like "have/has been ____ing." To translate a present perfect continuous sentence in Spanish, you'll need to follow this formula:

hace + period of time + que + present tense verb

For example:

Hace tres años que trabaja aquí.
He has been working here for three years.

Hace 20 horas que conducimos.
We have been driving for 20 hours.

Hace toda la noche que estudio.
I've been studying all night.

Here we are literally saying "it makes [period of time] that…" Notice that in spite of that long English verb conjugation, "have been _____ing," all we need in Spanish is a simple present tense conjugation to convey the same meaning.

Note: You may also see desde hace instead of just hace. For example: Estudio desde hace toda la noche. No estudio francés desde hace tres años.

We can also flip the sentence around and drop the que: It still means the same thing:

Estudio hace toda la noche.
I've been studying all night.

Making the sentence negative with a "no" will slightly alter the translation:

No estudio francés hace tres años.
I haven't studied French in three years.

Technically the translation should be more like "I haven't been studying French for three years," but "haven't studied" is much simpler and means the same thing.

The Past Perfect Continuous

We can convert any present perfect continuous sentences into the past if need be. When we do the "have/has been ____ing" part of the sentence becomes "had been ____ing." We do this to express how long something had been happening until it was interrupted at a certain point in the past. To do this we simply take the present tense formula and convert all the verbs to the imperfect tense:

hacía + period of time + que + imperfect tense verb

The hace becomes hacía and whatever present tense verb used before is now conjugated in the imperfect. For example:

Hacía tres años que trabajaba aquí.
He had been working here for three years.

Hacía 20 horas que conducíamos.
We had been driving for 20 hours.

Hacía muchos meses que yo viajaba.
I'd been traveling for many months.

This time we are literally saying "it made [period of time] that…" And again, in spite of that long English phrase, "had been _____ing," all we need is a simple imperfect tense conjugation.

Once again we have the option to flip the sentence around and drop the que:

Viajaba hacía muchos meses.
I'd been traveling for many months.

And again, making the sentence negative changes things slightly:

Hacía muchos meses que yo no viajaba.
I had not travelled in many months.

Technically the translation should be "I had not been travelling for many months," but "hadn't travelled" is quicker and easier.

Time Questions with Hacer

We are not limited to statements with hacer time expressions. We can ask questions too. To ask how long something has been going on, follow this formula:

cuánto tiempo hace que + present tense verb

For example:

¿Cuánto tiempo hace que esperas?
How long have you been waiting?

¿Cuánto tiempo hace que Julia estudia español?
How long has Julia been studying Spanish?

The literal translation is "How long does it make that…?"

And we can ask the same kind of question about the past using this formula:

cuánto tiempo hacía que + imperfect tense verb

Notice that we've swapped hace for hacía and the rest of the sentence uses an imperfect tense verb instead of a present tense one.

¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que esperabas?
How long had you been waiting?

¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que Julia estudiaba español?
How long had Julia been studying Spanish?

Alternatives to Hacer

Using Desde

If you'd rather focus on when an action began rather than how long it has been occuring, you can use desde ("since"):

Trabaja aquí desde 2008.
He has been working here since 2008.

Conducimos desde la mañanita.
We have been driving since early morning.

Estudio desde las cuatro.
I've been studying since four.

Using Llevar

Note: Llevar should not be used for situations with short periods of time.

You can also use llevar in a similar manner to hacer. Here's the formula:

llevar (present tense) + period of time + present participle

For more on present participles see: The Present & Imperfect Progressive

Llevar means "to bring" or "to carry," but in this case it's more like, "to have."

Llevo ocho años trabajando en esta escuela.
I've been working at this school for eight years.

You can also ask llevar questions:

¿Cuánto tiempo llevas bailando como profesional?
How long have you been dancing profesionally?

To make the sentence negative, incorporate sin ("without") and an infinitive:

Su tío lleva cinco años sin usar drogas.
His uncle hasn't used drugs for five years.

Llevamos mucho tiempo sin ir a la iglesia.
We haven't been to church for a long time.

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