This week, in my conversation group Ohlala French Coffee, we talk about time, time management and the passing of time.
So I thought it would be perfect to talk to you about French time expressions. And especially to help you to use them well, because I always hear a lot of mistakes about French time expressions.
Today we're going to talk about expressions of time: depuis / pendant / pour. I hear mistakes all the time on these three expressions. Now we're going to see how to use them and how to stop getting these three little words wrong. Are you ready? Let's get started!
Expression of time in French “Pendant” :
You must use "Pendant" when you talk about an action that has a finite, limited duration. This action has a definite beginning and a definite end.
Tu peux utiliser “Pendant” pour une action passée ou bien une action future. But, you can't use "Pendant" with a present action, an action in progress. It is not possible.
Look at these examples:
J’ai habité à Lyon pendant 5 ans. (=for)
We use "Pendant" because we have a beginning. It started 5 years ago. And I have an end, the end is at the end of these 5 years. The action of living in Lyon has a finite, limited duration of 5 years.
In the same way, I can say: Je vais habiter à Lyon pendant 5 ans. (=for)
You can use "Pendant" here, because you also have a beginning and an end. It's a future action, but also with a finite, limited duration of 5 years.
Other example : Les enfants jouent au foot pendant la récréation. (=during)
Here, we don't necessarily have a time indication like "5 years", but we have an element that has a beginning and an end: la récréation (= the break).
Last example : Je vais au marché pendant que tu iras à la poste. (=while)
We can also use "Pendant que" to express a duration with a notion of simultaneity. The action of going to the post office is at the same time as the action of going to the market. We also have two actions with a beginning and an end.
I give you a little mnemonic trick to remember the use of “Pendant”.
"Pendant" starts with a "P" as in "Part" (=go) and ends with a "T" as in "Termine" (=finish)
When we use "Pendant", we have the action that "Part" and that "Termine".
Expression of time in French “Depuis” :
You must use "Depuis" when you talk about an action that is in progress, an action that has no end yet, an action that is not yet finished.
“Depuis” expresses the continuity of an action. We insist on the duration in progress.
⚠️Quick note: you can't use "Depuis" at the beginning of a sentence.
Observe these examples:
Tu apprends le français depuis 3 ans.
You started learning French 3 years ago. It started 3 years ago. But it's not over yet. You are still learning French! It's an action that's still going on and we don't know the end.
Other example : Elle a arrêté de fumer depuis 10 ans.
And now you hate me because I use "depuis" with past tense. Yes, you can! Look at the sentence carefully. "Elle a arrêté de fumer" is an action that started in the past. "Depuis 10 ans" and that action is still going on now, in the present.
Small nuance: "Je t’attendais depuis des heures quand l’orage a éclaté."
And now you hate me even more! So, I wanted to show you this little nuance. You can use "Depuis" with the imperfect tense in this context and followed by an action in the past tense. I'm going to say:
"Je t’ai attendu pendant des heures." → Limited action in the past so we use “Pendant”.
But : "Je t’attendais depuis des heures, quand l’orage a éclaté". → We use “Depuis” here with the imperfect tense, because we want to insist on the duration which was long and which was in progress at that moment. This continuity will then be broken by the other time expression "Quand".
I give you a little mnemonic trick to remember the use of “Depuis”.
“Depuis” ends with an "S". The "S" has a continuous curve shape.
We have the action that begins at one point and continues over time.
Expression of time in French “Pour :
You have to use "Pour" to express an expected time in the future. So, you should know that we don't use "Pour" too much in French. It's possible, but we won't use "Pendant" instead.
It's more natural to say: “Je vais à Paris pendant 2 jours” instead of “Je vais à Paris pour 2 jours.“
But, it is possible to use it too. However, don't use "pour" if you are talking about the past. "For" is a time expression only used with a future, planned action.
Look at these examples:
Je voudrais réserver une chambre d’hôtel pour 2 nuits.
In this example, we plan to stay 2 nights in this hotel. It is a planned, future duration, so we use "Pour".
I'll give you a little mnemonic trick to remember how to use "Pour".
"Pour" ends with an "R" and the letter "R" looks like a person running towards the future. Remember then that with "For" we are running to the future and NOT to the past.
You will complete the following sentences and you will have to choose between “Pour”, “Depuis” et “Pendant” :
1) J’ai habité ce quartier _____ 8 ans.
2) Elle part à Rome demain ______ 1 semaine.
3) J’ai le même vélo _____ que je suis toute ado.
4) Mon frère joue au foot _______ que je dessine.
5) Tom n’a plus de nouvelles de son cousin _______ 10 ans.
1) J’ai habité ce quartier pendant 8 ans.
2) Elle part à Rome demain pendant / pour 1 semaine.
3) J’ai le même vélo depuis que je suis toute ado.
4) Mon frère joue au foot pendant que je dessine.
5) Tom n’a plus de nouvelles de son cousin depuis 10 ans.