Depuis vs Il y a

Since – For – Ago

When talking about something that happened in the past, the correct verb tense isn’t always enough – sometimes you need a temporal expression to state just when it happened. The most common French temporal expressions are depuis and il y a, and they are not interchangeable.

Depuis

The French preposition depuis is equivalent to "for" or "since" plus some reference to time. Whether used with action verbs or state-of-being verbs, the French construction is the same, but the English grammar varies.

Depuis with action verbs

  • With a period of time = xxx has been or had been happening for that amount of time
  • With a point in time / event = xxx has/had been happening since that time / event

Par exemple…

J’étudie depuis quatre heures.   I’ve been studying for four hours.
Elle te cherche depuis 10h30.   She’s been looking for you since 10:30.
J’étudiais depuis quatre heures quand il a téléphoné.   I’d been studying for four hours when he called.

  Note that there is no French equivalent for these verbal constructions. "Has been happening" must be translated by the French present tense, while "had been happening" = imperfect.

Depuis with state-of-being verbs

  • With a period of time = xxx has or had happened for that amount of time
  • With a point in time / event = xxx has/had happened since that time / event

Again, there is no equivalent French verb form: the present or imperfect is required.

Par exemple…

Je suis anxieux depuis deux semaines.
Je suis anxieux depuis son départ.
Je suis anxieux depuis qu’il est parti.
 

 

I’ve been anxious for two weeks.
I’ve been anxious since his departure.
I’ve been anxious since he left.
J’étais anxieux depuis deux semaines.
J’étais anxieux depuis son départ.
J’étais anxieux depuis qu’il était parti.
  I’d been anxious for two weeks.
I’d been anxious since his departure.
I’d been anxious since he’d left.

Depuis with negation

Elle n’a pas parlé depuis son arrivée.   She hasn’t spoken since she arrived.
Elle n’avait pas parlé depuis trois jours.   She hadn’t spoken for three days.
Je ne suis plus fâché depuis son explication.   I haven’t been angry since his explanation.
Je n’étais plus fâché depuis qu’il s’était excusé.   I hadn’t been angry since he’d apologized.

Depuis in questions

L’as-tu vu depuis mars ?   Have you seen him since March?
Qu’est-ce qu’il a fait depuis son retour ?   What has he done since his return?

Synonyms

Pour and pendant can replace depuis only when the verb is in the past tense.

J’étudiais pour / pendant quatre heures quand il a téléphoné.   I’d been studying for four hours when he called.
J’étais anxieux pour / pendant deux semaines.   I’d been anxious for two weeks.

When referring to an amount of time, the expressions il y a, ça fait, and voilà can be used in place of depuis but the structure of the French sentence changes completely: il y a + time + que + verb. This is informal.

Il y a quatre heures que j’étudie.
Ça fait quatre heures que j’étudie.
Voilà quatre heures que j’étudie.
  I’ve been studying for four hours.
Il y a 20 minutes que nous sommes prêts.
Ça fait 20 minutes qu’on est prêts.
Voilà 20 minutes qu’on est prêts.
  We’ve been ready for 20 minutes.

Il y a

Past tense + il y a + amount of time indicates that something happened that amount of time ago.

Par exemple…

J’ai fini il y a 15 minutes.   I finished 15 minutes ago.
Il est arrivé il y a une semaine.   He arrived a week ago.
Nous étions prêts il y a une heure.   We were ready an hour ago.
Elle avait la grippe il y a un mois.   She had the flu a month ago.

Informal equivalents

Voilà

J’ai fini voilà 15 minutes.   I finished 15 minutes ago.
Il est arrivé voilà une semaine.   He arrived a week ago.

Or you can turn the sentence around with il y a … que or voilà … que:

Il y a 15 minutes que j’ai fini.
Voilà 15 minutes que j’ai fini.
  I finished 15 minutes ago.
Il y a une semaine qu’il est arrivé.
Voilà une semaine qu’il est arrivé.
  He arrived a week ago.

Summary: Depuis vs Il y a (vs informal equivalents)

Ago

  • Past tense + il y a + period of time
  • Past tense + voilà + period of time (informal)
  • Il y a / Voilà + period of time + que + past tense (informal)

For

  • Present tense + depuis + period of time
  • Past tense + depuis / pendant / pour + period of time
  • Il y a / Ça fait / Voilà + period of time + que + verb (informal)

Since

  • Present or past tense + depuis + point in time
   
Quiz: Depuis vs Il y a

 Related lessons

 Share / Tweet / Pin Me!

Depuis vs Il y a
Stay up to date with Lawless French!
Twitter Facebook Quora Instagram Pinterest YouTube RSS Newsletter
Quora

Any Questions?

 Get help on the forum.
  
 

More Lawless French

 Subscribe to my twice-weekly newsletter.
       

Support Lawless French

  This free website is created with love and a great deal of work.

If you love it, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation.

Your support is entirely optional but tremendously appreciated.