Time Flies: Hacer Time Expressions to “Make” Time Clear as Day
Most of the time, the Spanish verb hacer means “to do” or “to make.”
But there is much more to it than that.
SpanishDict includes over 30 different meanings for this verb, which may tell you about its importance for Spanish speakers.
The “Diccionario de la Real Academia Española” (“Spanish Royal Academy Dictionary”) lists 58 different meanings and uses of the word, and over 43 verbal phrases that use hacer! It seems we really love this cute, little verb.
Moreover, the present tense third person singular hace (he/she/it does, he/she/it makes, it is [for weather]) is the 84th most commonly used word in the Spanish language! Now, that is an important verb form!
In case you have not guessed it yet, today’s post is all about the Spanish verb hacer.
Trying to cover the vast amount of information there is about it would take us around 25 long posts, if not more. In order to make it much more manageable, this time I will only focus on hacer time expressions, and we will leave the rest for another day.
But before we delve into the crazy world of hacer time expressions, let me quickly remind you the conjugations of the three tenses we are going to be using: the present, the imperfect and the preterite.
How to Conjugate Hacer
Hacer is considered an irregular verb in the present tense because of its first person singular. However, it is a fairly easy verb to learn if we take into account that the rest of the present tense persons are regular:
yo hago (I do, I make)
tú haces (you do, you make)
él/ella hace (he/she/it does, he/she/it makes)
nosotros/as hacemos (we do, we make)
vosotros/as hacéis (you do, you make)
ellos/as hacen (they do, they make)
When it comes to the imperfect, hacer is not one of the only three irregular verbs that exist in the Spanish imperfect tense. So once again, no big deal:
yo hacía (I did, I made*)
tú hacías (you did, you made)
él/ella hacía (he/she/it did, he/she/it made)
nosotros/as hacíamos (we did, we made)
vosotros/as hacíais (you did, you made)
ellos/as hacían (they did, they made)
*Remember that many times we can translate the Spanish imperfect as “used to,” “would,” a past continuous tense and even a past perfect tense.
The preterite is indeed irregular, but the irregularity repeats itself in all the conjugations, making it very easy to learn, too:
yo hice (I did, I made)
tú hiciste (you did, you made)
él/ella hizo (he/she/it did, he/she/it made)
nosotros/as hicimos (we did, we made)
vosotros/as hicisteis (you did, you made)
ellos/as hicieron (they did, they made)
You might notice that hizo substitutes the c for a z—this is solely a written change, done to keep the soft s sound intact.
And now that you remember all the relevant conjugations of hacer, let’s move on to time expressions that use it. Time to learn!
Hacer Time Expressions to “Make” Time Clear as Day
Hacer is one of the most important Spanish verbs when it comes to time expressions.
Its translation will vary, as you will see in the rest of the post, depending on the construction of the sentence. Overall, though, there are three main ways of translating hacer when using these kinds of expressions: “ago,” “since” and “for.”
I will give you plenty of examples in the following sections, so that by the end of the post you will know how to translate any hacer time expression correctly. Here are three examples in the hopes that they will whet your appetite for more:
Lo compré hace tres meses. (I bought it three months ago.)
Hace un mes que no lo veo. (It has been a month since I last saw him. Literally: “It does/makes a month that I do not see him.”)
Leo en inglés desde hace 15 años. (I have been reading in English for 15 years.)
Each of these purposes have different constructions, so let’s see them one by one.
Hace with Actions That Took Place Some Time Ago
The first main use of the verb hacer with time expressions is to indicate the time that has passed since an action took place. In order to do that, we have two different constructions:
past tense action + hace + time expression
Use this construction to say that someone did something some time ago:
Compré mi primer coche hace cinco años. (I bought my first car five years ago.)
Mi hermana se casó hace seis meses. (My sister got married six months ago.)
Nuestros vecinos volvieron de sus vacaciones hace unos días. (Our neighbors came back from their vacation a few days ago.)
hace + time expression + (que) + past tense action
The exact same can be said about this second construction. As you can see, the order of the words is different and we have added an optional que to the construction, but the intrinsic meaning and the use are the same. You can translate this into English as “it has been some time since someone did something.”
Just this one time, I am going to use the same examples and in the previous section so you can clearly see the changes that need to be made:
Hace cinco años (que) compré mi primer coche (It has been five years since I bought my first car.)
Hace seis meses (que) mi hermana se casó (It has been six months since my sister got married.)
Hace unos días (que) nuestros vecinos volvieron de sus vacaciones (It has been a few days since our neighbors came back from their vacation.)
Hace with Actions That Started in the Past and Continue Today
We can also use hacer to indicate that an action started in the past but it is still taking place today. Once again, we have two different ways of conveying this meaning in Spanish:
present tense action + desde hace + time expression
This construction is used in Spanish in order to say that someone has been doing something for a period of time or has not done something in some time:
No como carne desde hace seis meses. (I have not eaten meat in six months.)
Cocino mi propia comida desde hace cuatro años. (I have been cooking my own food for four years.)
Mis padres viven en Italia desde hace dos décadas. (My parents have been living in Italy for two decades.)
If you use the verb ser (to be) or tener (to have) with this kind of construction, the English translation is just a present perfect tense:
Soy vegano desde hace nueve semanas. (I have been a vegan for nine weeks.)
No tengo trabajo desde hace un año. (I have not had a job for a year.)
hace + time expression + que + present tense action
Just as before, the intrinsic meaning of this construction is exactly the same as in the previous construction. Notice, however, that the order of the words in the sentence is different, desde has disappeared and que is compulsory now:
Hace cinco días que no bebo café. (It has been cinco days since I last drank coffee / I haven not drunk coffee in five days.)
Hace 10 años que vivo aquí. (I have been living here for 10 years. Literally: “It makes/does 10 years that I live here.”)
Hace dos meses que voy al gimnasio cada día. (I have been going to the gym every day for two months.)
Hacía with Past Actions That Were Interrupted in the Past
This use of hacer is possibly the most difficult, but it is also delightfully helpful when you want to talk about an action in the past that was interrupted by another action.
hacía + time expression + que + imperfect tense action + cuando + interrupting past tense action
I know this first construction may look a little intimidating, but once you get the gist of it, it will become a great ally in your Spanish learning process. Use this construction when you want to say someone had been doing something for some time when another action interrupted the first one:
Hacía seis meses que estudiaba inglés cuando me mudé a Londres. (I had been studying English for six months when I moved to London.)
Hacía dos horas que María corría cuando empezó a llover. (María had been running for two hours when it started raining.)
Hacía cinco años que Juan vivía en Barcelona cuando eso ocurrió. (Juan had been living in Barcelona for five years when that happened.)
hacía + time expression + que + no + imperfect tense action
I was hesitant to include this construction here because the meaning is a bit different to its affirmative counterpart, but the skeleton of the construction is practically the same.
When you use this hacía construction with the negative form of the imperfect, you are still implying that an action stopped in the past, but what you are really saying is that the action has started again in the present:
Hacía cinco meses que no comía pizza. (I had not eaten pizza in five months [but today I ate it].)
Hacía más de 10 años que no te veía. (I had not seen you in more than 10 years [but here you are now].)
Hacía tres días que no fumaba. (I had not smoked in three days [but unfortunately, I am too addicted and have started again].)
imperfect tense action + (desde) hacía + time expression + cuando + interrupting past tense action
Once again, this construction means the same as the first one, but now we start our sentence with the subject and que has disappeared. Notice also that desde is not compulsory in this construction, but from the point of view of a native speaker, it sounds much better if you use it:
Antonio vivía en Madrid (desde) hacía dos meses cuando encontró trabajo. (Antonio had been living in Madrid for two months when he found a job.)
Estudiaba polaco (desde) hacía un año cuando te conocí. (I had been learning Polish for a year when I met you.)
Bebía alcohol (desde) hacía ocho años cuando lo dejó. (He had been drinking alcohol for eight years when he quit it.)
Now that you know how to properly use the verb hacer in order to talk about time, let’s have a look at it in questions.
The constructions are similar but even easier, so I hope this gives you the necessary push to go on reading.
Asking “How Long” with Hacer
There are many different ways to ask “how long” in Spanish. The following four structures will teach you how to ask perfect time-related questions in the blink of an eye:
¿Cuánto tiempo hace que + present tense action?
Use this construction when you want to ask how long something has been going on:
¿Cuánto tiempo hace que vives aquí? (How long have you been living here?)
¿Cuánto tiempo hace que estudias español? (How long have you been studying Spanish?)
¿Cuánto tiempo hace que nadas? (How long have you been swimming?)
¿Cuánto tiempo hace que eres fan de Ricky Martin? (How long have you been a fan of Ricky Martin?)
The short answer to this question form is hace + period of time:
Hace cinco años. (For five years.)
Hace seis meses. (For six months.)
¿Desde cuándo + present tense action?
The meaning of this structure is the same as the structure above and though it does not include the verb hacer, it is so similar in construction that it is worth a mention.
¿Desde cuándo esperas? (How long have you been waiting?)
¿Desde cuándo tienes este coche? (How long have you had this car?)
We can also use it in order to express surprise or incredulity. In this case, we will translate desde cuándo literally:
¿Desde cuándo te gusta el queso? (Since when do you like cheese?)
¿Desde cuándo el dinero da la felicidad? (Since when does money bring happiness?)
The answer to a desde cuándo real question will be desde + a specific time:
Desde 2015. (Since 2015.)
Desde ayer. (Since yesterday.)
¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que + imperfect tense action?
We use this construction when we want to know how long an action had gone on/had been going on until another action interrupted it. The interrupting action will not necessarily appear in the sentence if the speakers already know about it.
Imagine a conversation between two friends who just found out a common friend has passed away. They do not need to add the “when he died” part to the dialogue, because they know about it very well already:
¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que lo conocías? (How long had you known him when he died?)
Hacía unos 20 años. Fuimos juntos a la escuela. (Around 20 years. We went to school together.)
When we use this construction in the negative, the meaning changes. We know the other person had not done something for some time but has done it again, and we want to know how long had it been since it happened last time:
¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que no bebías café? (How long had it been since you last drank coffee?)
Hacía cuatro meses. (It had been four months.)
¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que no comías carne? (How long had it been since you last ate meat?)
Hacía cinco años. (It had been five years.)
¿Desde cuándo + imperfect tense action?
Here is another construction that does not include hacer but is closely related to the previous one. Once again, we want to know how long an action had gone on/had been going on until another action interrupted it.
The interrupting action is also not compulsory with this construction:
¿Desde cuándo estábais casados? (How long had you been married?)
¿Desde cuándo dormías? (How long had you been sleeping?)
¿Desde cuándo cocinabas cuando llegó? (How long had you been cooking when he arrived?)
The answer will be desde + a specific time:
Desde las tres. (Since three p.m.)
Desde la semana pasada. (Since last week.)
At this point, you probably know more about hacer time expressions than a Spanish native speaker, and you should be proud of that!
But what would happen if you got stressed out and momentarily forgot all this? What if you are trying to get the job of your dreams, the interview is in Spanish and your brain refuses to remember hacer time expressions?
No need to worry!
Spanish has a lot of ways of circumventing all this. They may not be as elegant as hacer, but they can save you from a total disaster in a moment of need.
I would need another whole post to talk about the alternatives to hacer, but I will focus on one of the most commonly used and easy to grasp: llevar (please, do not make me give you a one-word translation for llevar with the meaning of hacer, because it would be impossible as you will now see.)
Llevar: An Alternative to Hacer
Llevar is one of those crazy verbs that have dozens of meanings depending on the context you are using it. It normally means “to carry,” but that is not the case when talking about time expressions.
There is no real difference in meaning between hacer and llevar time constructions. Indeed, the sentence layout will be different, but it is up to the user to choose the one they prefer to use.
It would be an almost impossible task to find a single meaning for llevar when used or time expressions, so I believe the best way to understand how it can make our lives easier by being an alternative to hacer is to have a look a some constructions and examples:
llevar (present) + time expression + present participle
Use this construction when you want to say that someone has been doing something for some time:
Llevo tres años estudiando inglés. (I have been studying English for three years.)
Llevamos seis meses viviendo aquí. (We have been living here for six months.)
llevar (present) + time expression + sin + infinitive
Use this construction when you want to say that someone has not done something in some time:
Llevas 10 años sin fumar. (You have not smoked in 10 years.)
Llevamos tres semanas sin beber Coca Cola. (We have not drunk Coke in three weeks.)
llevar (imperfect) + present participle
Use this construction with the imperfect in order to say someone had been doing something for some time when something else happened:
Llevaba esperándote una hora cuando llamaste. (I had been waiting for you for one hour when you called.)
Llevaban hablando 15 minutos cuando se dieron cuenta de que alguien los estaban grabando. (They had been talking for 15 minutes when they realized someone was recording them.)
llevar (imperfect) + sin + infinitive
Use this constructions when you want to say that an action stopped in the past but has started again:
Llevaba un año sin venir al cine. (I had not come to the cinema for a year [but I am here now].)
Llevaba toda la tarde sin beber agua. (I had not drunk water all afternoon [but you just gave me a bottle].)
And finally, it is official! You now have all the necessary tools to be a master of time expressions!
Do not think of the structures as enemies you have to learn by heart but as guides that will allow you to create your own perfect sentences in Spanish.
The key to success is practice, practice and a little bit more practice, so grab your favorite pen and a piece of paper and start your own hacer adventure!