Too many options to choose from

When desde, desde que, desde hace, and hace are first introduced to Spanish students, questions ensue. All these words just seem bottomline confusing. Here’s to simplicity.

1. Desde + place

When meaning “from,” use desde.

  • La vi desde la ventana – I saw her from the window.
  • Ella llamó a su novio desde Montevideo – She called her boyfriend from Montevideo. 

2. Desde + specific date

Desde (without que) precedes a specific time or date, including: el año 2000 (the year 2000), ayer (yesterday), anteayer (before yesterday), anoche (last night), ahora (now). Desde could also be translated as “since.” You can use desde hace with present indicative, present perfect, preterite indefinite, the gerund, and even preterite imperfect.

  • Vivo en Nueva York desde el 1999 – I’ve been living in New York since 1999.
  • Desde esta mañana no he estado muy bien – I haven’t been well since the morning.

3. Desde + que + conjugated verb

When referring to a specific moment when something occurred, use desde que. The conjunction que introduces a conjugated verbs. In this sense, desde means “since” as well.

  • Desde que se mudó a los Estados Unidos, habla muy bien el inglés – He speaks very good English since having moved to the U.S.
  • Desde que estoy casada casi no hago deporte – I barely exercise since getting married.

4. Desde hace + period of time

When referring to actions that started in the past and are ongoing in the present, use desde hace. Desde hace is used with the gerund and the present perfect, but it is not used with the preterite indefinite or the imperfect.

  • Vivo en Bolivia desde hace tres años – I’ve been living in Bolivia for three years.
  • Ellos están de visita desde hace dos dias – They have been visiting for two days.

5. Hace + period of time + que + verb in present tense or preterite indefinite

This is used the same way as desde hace to refer to the present. However, it is necessary to include the que conjunction. You cannot use hace + period of time + que with the present perfect, gerund, imperfect, only with the present indicative or preterite indefinite. In some instances, the translation will be “since” or  “for.” Using the same examples as with desde hace above with present indicative:

  • Hace tres años que vivo en Bolivia – I’ve been living in Bolivia for three years.
  • Hace dos días que ellos están de visita – They have been visiting for two days.

The following examples use the preterite indefinite. In this case, when we use hace + period of time + que means “ago.”

  • Hace cinco años que me divorcié – I got divorced five years ago.
  • Hace unas horas que terminé la tarea – I finished my homework a few hours ago.

Desde hace could be potentially placed at the beginning or towards the end of a sentence, but it is more natural to place it towards the end.

6. Preterite indefinite + hace + period of time 

Same uses as hace + period of time + que + preterite indefinite above, but two things change: 1) hace is placed towards the end of the sentence; 2) the conjunction que is eliminated. Even though hace could be placed at the end of the sentence in the present tense for colloquial speech, the standard is to place hace at the beginning with either the present or preterite indefinite or at the end with the preterite. The preterite indefinite is the only verb tense that will allow hace to ble placed at the end of the sentence. Using the examples from above:

  • Me divorcié hace cinco años – I got divorced five years ago.
  • Terminé la tarea hace unas horas – I finished my homework some hours ago.

Exercises with desde, desde que, desde hace, hace

Now that you know and understand some of the differences, try the exercises below. Do not be thrown off by the translation. They conjugation can be slightly different in English, but the meaning is the same. I’ve translated the sentences so they sound as natural as possible.

  1. Te quiero ____________________ te conocí – I’ve loved you since I met you.
  2. ¿____________________ cuanto tiempo que conoces a Lourdes? – How long have you know Lourdes?
  3. Le mandamos la carta ____________________ Bogotá – We sent him the letter from Bogotá.
  4. Estuvo casada ____________________ el año 2001 hasta el 2009 – She was married from 2001 to 2009.
  5. ____________________ te dije la verdad no quieres hablar conmigo. No es justo – Ever since I told you the truth, you won’t talk to me. It’s not fair.
  6. Ellos fueron a Montreal ____________________ tres semanas – They went to Montreal three weeks ago.
  7. ____________________ seis meses que tuve un hijo – I had a child six months ago.
  8. Tuve un hijo _____________________  seis meses – I had a child six months ago.
  9. ____________________ 10 años estudio español, francés y un poco de italiano – I’ve been studying Spanish, French, and Italian for 10 years.
  10. ____________________ dos dias no come bien. Ha estado un poco enfermo – He hasn’t been eating well for two days. He’s been a bit sick

Answers: 1. desde que; 2. hace; 3. desde; 4. desde; 5. desde que; 6. hace; 7. hace; 8. hace; 9. desde hace; 10. desde hace

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing Spanish classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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