Ways to Translate the Passage of Time in Spanish

Common Idioms That Mean 'Some Time Ago'

Los dinosaurios existieron hace muchos años. (Dinosaurs existed many years ago.) Photo from the Entre Dinosaurios exhibit in Valencia, Spain. Photo by David Martín :: Suki_ ::; licensed via Creative Commons.

The usual way of saying in Spanish that something happened some period of time ago is to use the verb hace, which is a form of hacer, "to make," followed by the period of time.

Using Hace to Express Time That Has Passed

To express a "period of time ago," a phrase using hace can come at the beginning of the sentence or can follow the verb. The main verb of the sentence is most commonly used in the preterite, or the simple past tense, although other tenses are possible. The literal translation of hace can be understood to mean "ago," "it has been" or "it was."

Spanish Sentence English Sentence
Hace cinco años nuestra escuela fue acreditada. Five years ago, our school was accredited.
Es algo que aprendí hace poco tiempo. It is something I learned a short time ago.
La historia de la ciudad comenzó hace mucho tiempo. The story of the city began a long time ago.
Hace tres años yo estaba preparado para salir de casa. Three years ago, I was prepared to leave home.
Hace muchos años un hombre anciano me dijo una historia que su madre le había dicho. Many years ago, an old man told me a story that his mother had told him.
Es la editora del programa, desde su primera emisión hace cuatro años. She is the editor of the program, since its first broadcast four years ago.
¿Por qué hace un momento me criticabas? Why were you criticizing me a little while ago?

Using Hace as Part of a Prepositional Phrase

Similar to English, an expression of time can be used as part of a prepositional phrase immediately following a preposition.

Spanish Sentence English Sentence
El dólar cae a niveles de hace cinco años. The dollar is falling to levels of five years ago.
Hasta hace un momento estudiaban. They were studying until a moment ago.

Using Hace to Express the Ongoing Passage of Time

If the main verb in a sentence using an "hace tiempo" phrase is in the present tense, it means that the action began the stated time ago and is continuing.

Spanish Sentence English Sentence
Hace 20 años que negociamos con Brasil. We have been trading with Brazil for 20 years.
Hace dos años que tenemos este programa. We have had this program for two years.
Hace diez años que no voy a Guatemala. It has been 10 years since I went to Guatemala.

Hacer and the Interruption of Time

Hacer can be used to talk about actions in the past that were interrupted. These expressions are useful for talking about something that had been going on when something else happened. In this case, use hacía as the verb form of hacer and use the active verb in the imperfect past tense.

Spanish Sentence English Sentence
Hacía dos semanas que leía el libro cuando lo perdí. I had been reading the book for two weeks when I lost it.
Hacía un año que estudiaba español cuando viajé a Colombia. I had been studying Spanish for one year when I traveled to Colombia.
Dormía hacía ocho horas cuando sonó el reloj. I had been sleeping for eight hours when the alarm went off.
Jugábamos con el perro desde hacía 15 minutos cuando empezó a llover. We had been playing with the dog for 15 minutes when it began to rain.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Ways to Translate the Passage of Time in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/translating-ago-to-spanish-3079229. Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Ways to Translate the Passage of Time in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/translating-ago-to-spanish-3079229 Erichsen, Gerald. "Ways to Translate the Passage of Time in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/translating-ago-to-spanish-3079229 (accessed June 8, 2023).