How Long Ago Did It Happen?

You already know how to ask when something happened. All you have to do is ask, ¿Cuándo? For example,

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¿Cuándo llegaste a Madrid?
When did you arrive in Madrid?
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¿Cuándo terminaste la tarea?
When did you finish the homework?
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¿Cuándo fuiste a la fiesta?
When did you go to the party?

However, if you wish to ask how long ago something happened or how long something has been happening, you need to memorize the Spanish phrase:

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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que…? OR ¿Cuánto tiempo hace que…?
How long has it been since...?

Either form of the question is correct, and you will complete the question with a conjugated verb in either the present or past tense.

Generally,
If the verb is in the present tense, the question means, “(For) how long have…?
If the verb is in the past tense, the question means, “How long ago did…?”
Por ejemplo:

Usually, the response will follow this format:

hace + time period + que + action

Please note that hacer is always in the third person singular form (hace) and does NOT change to reflect the quantity of time.

Por ejemplo:

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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que viajaste a los Estados Unidos?
How long have you been studying?
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¿Cuánto tiempo hace que manejas buses?
How long have you been driving buses?
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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que viajaste a los Estados Unidos?
How long ago did you travel to the United States?
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Hace tres años que estudio. ¡Ya me canso!
I’ve studied for three years. I’m getting tired of it! OR I’ve been studying for three years. I’m getting tired of it!
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Hace seis meses que manejo buses.
I’ve driven buses for six months. OR I’ve been driving buses for six months.
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Hace una semana que viajé a los Estados Unidos.
It’s been a week since I traveled to the United States.

In the past tense, you have the option of putting “hace + time period” at the end of the sentence, thereby eliminating the need for que.

Por ejemplo:

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¿Cuánto tiempo hace que tuvo a su hijo?
How long ago did you have your son?
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Tuve a mi hijo hace tres semanas.
I had my son three weeks ago.
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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que Uds. vivieron en Chile?
How long ago did you live in Chile?
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Vivimos en Chile hace once años.
We lived in Chile eleven years ago.

You can also ask how long ago it’s been since you haven’t done something. In this case, you will use the present tense, and the translation of these questions can be a little tricky. For example,

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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que fuisteis a la playa?
How long ago did you go to the beach?
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Fuimos a la playa hace dos días.
We went to the beach two days ago.
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¿Hace cuánto tiempo que no fumas?
How long have you not been smoking?
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¿Cuánto tiempo hace que no sales a divertirte?
How long has it been since you’ve gone out to enjoy yourself?
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Ahora trabajo en un fábrica.
Now I work in a factory.
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¿Desde cuándo trabajas allí?
Since when do you work there?
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Mis padres viven en Santa Cruz ahora.
My parents live in Santa Cruz now.
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¿Desde cuándo viven allá?
Since when do they live there?

When you respond, you can answer with one of the following:

- desde + noun
- desde que + conjugated verb
- desde hace + time period

For example, take the question, “¿Desde cuándo trabajas aquí?" You can formulate your answer in one of the following ways:

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Ahora mi tía hace artesanías.
Now my aunt makes crafts.
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¿Desde cuándo las hace ella?
Since when does she make them?
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Desde agosto.
Since August.
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Desde que vine a Montevideo.
Since I came to Montevideo.
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Desde hace tres meses.
For three months.

Por ejemplo:

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¿Desde cuándo vives en Barcelona?
Since when do you live in Barcelona?
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Desde el cuatro de diciembre del año 2001.
Since December 4, 2001.
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Desde que recibí una oferta de trabajo.
Since I received a job offer.
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Desde hace cinco años, más o menos.
For five years, more or less.
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¿Desde cuándo hablas español?
Since when do you speak Spanish?
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Desde el año pasado.
Since last year.
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Desde que fui a España.
Since I went to Spain.
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Desde hace un año.
For a year.

In the next section we'll talk about Spanish Adverbs (describing actions).

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