Depuis, il y a, pendant : no more mistakes !

Once you start feeling confident with various tenses, including Passé Composé and Imparfait, you may want to use time connectors. However, how to avoid mistakes with depuis, il y a, pendant,…? Having more structured sentences and sounding more like a native French speaker is not so easy ! In this article, we are going to answer a few frequently asked questions about these French preposition of time.

depuis il y a pendant

Table of content :

  1. ‘Depuis’ vs ‘il y a’ : how to avoid mistakes ?
  2. When can we use ‘pendant’ ?
  3. How to use ‘pour’ in French ?
  4. What is the difference between ‘en’ and ‘dans’ ?
  5. The other time connectors (cela/ça fait que, le, jusqu’à/au, de..à ,,..)

1. 'Depuis' vs 'il y a' : how to avoid mistakes ?

Firstly, the French expressions ‘depuis’ and ‘il y a’ have different meanings and uses. But still, they often present challenges for my French learners. Here is a detailed explanation of ‘depuis’ and ‘il y a’ to help you better understand the differences and avoid mistakes.

Depuis in French

If an event began in the past and is continuing into the present, use ‘depuis’ . We translate ‘depuis’ as ‘for’ or ‘since’. And generally ‘depuis’ is in a sentence with the present tense. Let’s look at some examples :

  • Il habite en France depuis 3 ans = He’s been living in France for 3 years (and he’s still there).
  • Ils sont mariés depuis 1998 = They’ve been married since 1998 (and it’s still together).

‘Depuis’ can also indicate something that was occurring in the past when it was interrupted by another action. We would then use the imparfait then passé composé.  This is illustrated in the following examples :

  • Je vivais à Sydney depuis 10 ans quand j’ai rencontré Marc = I had been living in Sydney for 10 years when I met Marc.
  • Depuis quand travaillais-tu dans cette entreprise quand il est parti ? = How long had you been working in the company when he left ?

Il y a 

Another tricky time indicator is ‘il y a’. It means ago and can only be found with the past tense. It indicates a moment in the past, something that took place previously.

  • Je suis allée à Marseille il y a 10 ans = I went to Marseille 10 years ago
  • Elle a vu la Tour Eiffel il y a une semaine = She saw the Eiffel Tower a week ago

‘Il y a’ can also mean ‘there is’ or ‘there are’, thus a confusion. It is frequently used to make a description or a general observation as follows :

  • Il y a du vent aujourd’hui = There is wind today.
  • Il y a beaucoup de boulangeries à Paris = There are many bakeries in Paris
il y a in french

2. When can we use 'pendant' ?

Now that you understand the difference between ‘il y a’ and ‘depuis’, let’s study ‘pendant’. This time connector can be translated as ‘for’ or ‘during’. It refers to the entire duration of an action in the past, present or future. For example:

  • En général, j’aime faire du tennis pendant les vacances = I generally like to play tennis during holidays
  • Je vais étudier le français pendant 6 mois = I’m going to study French during 6 months
  • J’ai vécu à New-York pendant 3 ans. Aujourd’hui je vis à Paris = I lived in New-York for 3 years. Now I live in Paris.

‘Pendant’ can therefore be followed by a period of time or by a noun.

3. How to use 'pour' in French ?

Another way to express time in French is using ‘pour’. Remember that ‘pour’ can only be used to talk about the duration of an event in the future. As a result, the tenses are only the present or the future. And note that ‘pendant’ could also be used in all of these:

  • J’ai un traitement pour 2 semaines = I have a treatment for 2 weeks (and it’s normally over after this)
  • Nous partons en vacances pour 10 jours = We go on vacation for 10 days

And, of course, you can mix different prepositions of time, expressing a duration and a moment such as :

  • Ils vont en Thaïlande pendant 3 semaines dans 10 jours = They are going to Thailand for 3 weeks in 10 days
pour french preposition

4. What is the difference between 'en' and 'dans' ?

In French, the prepositions ‘en’ and ‘dans’ both mean ‘in‘. You can, however, only use one or the other. They express time and location but let’s focus here on the time indicator.

Expressing time with ‘en’

‘En’ represents the time necessary to accomplish an action. The verb can either be in the present, past or future tense, such as :

  • J’ai fini ce livre en 4 jours  = I finished this book in 4 days (it took me 4 days to complete it)
  • Il peut finir cet exercice en 10 minutes =  He can complete this exercice in 10 minutes
  • Tu corrigeras cet examen en quelques heures = You will correct this exam in a few hours

And ‘en’ expresses time : month, season, or year (except from spring, au printemps) :

  • J’adore skier en hiver = I love skiing in winter
  • Mon frère vient en avril = My brother comes in April

Dans as a preposition of time

‘Dans’ is a moment in the future, so the tenses are in the present or the future :

  • J’ai hâte, je pars en vacances dans une semaine = I can’t wait, I’m going on vacation in a week
  • Je vais venir t’aider dans un petit moment = I’m going to help you in a short moment

In French we will never say ‘dans le matin’ for in the morning or ‘dans le soir’ for in the evening. We use le matin, l’après-midi, le soir for moments of the day.

5. The other time connectors ('cela fait que, jusqu'à',..)

Finally, ‘cela fait…que’ is another great way to express a duration in French. It is a synonym of ‘depuis’ but can only start a sentence. For a more familiar phrase, you can use ‘ça fait..que’:

  • Cela fait un mois qu’elle habite à Vienne = She’s been living in Vienna for one month (and she’s still there)
  • Ça fait une heure que je t’attends ! = I’ve been waiting for you for one hour !

The end of a moment is translated as ‘jusqu’à’ in French. We use ‘jusqu’au’ or ‘jusqu’aux’ when there is ‘le’ or ‘les’ before a specific date or event. For example :

  • Nous allons travailler jusqu’à midi = We are going to work until noon
  • Il a dansé jusqu’au petit matin = He danced until dawn
  • Elle reste ici jusqu’aux vacances = She stays here until the holidays

Remember : Jusqu’au = jusqu’à + le and Jusqu’aux = jusqu’à + les 

I hope you’ve found this lesson useful. As a conclusion, the tiniest words in French might not be the easiest ones ! If you’d like to feel more confortable with grammar and conversation, get in touch. I’d love to help you love French even more !

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