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Using the Present Tense for Actions That Began in the Past

Unlike Spanish, English Often Uses Present Perfect Tense

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One way in which the present indicative tense is frequently used in Spanish that is unfamiliar to English speakers is to speak of actions that began in the past and are continuing to the present.

An example can be seen in a sentence such as this one: ¿Cuántos días hace que no comes carne? (How many days has it been since you haven't eaten meat?) Note that in English, the present tense isn't used, but in Spanish it is. To the Spanish speaker in this case, the present tense indicates that the person isn't eating meat now; the phrase "hace que" shows that the action began in the past.

Use of a past-tense verb here would indicate that the time of the action is past. For example, a sentence such as "Hace seis días que mis amigos y yo fuimos de vacaciones" would mean "My friends and I went on vacation six days ago," while "Hace seis meses que mis amigos y yo vamos de vacaciones" would mean "My friends have been on vacation for six days."

Such use of the present tense is common when using hace to indicate when a time period started:

  • Hace mucho tiempo que te quiero. I have loved you for a long time.
  • Hace dos años que tengo trastorno de ansiedad. I've had an anxiety disorder for two years.
  • Hace unos meses que vengo analizando diferentes posibilidades. I have been analyzing different possibilities for some months.
  • Desde hace un año tengo esta infección. I've had this infection since a year ago.
Following are examples of similar sentences other than those using hace where the present tense is used in a way that it isn't in English. What they have in common is that despite the use of a past tense in the English translation, the action of the verb is continuing into the present:
  • Beckham dijo: "Ésta es la primera vez que deseo que pierda el Manchester". Beckham said: "This is the first time that I have wanted Manchester to lose."
  • Llevo años enseñando español a adultos. I've been teaching Spanish to adults for years.
  • Los atletas llevan una semana con dolor. The athletes have spent a week in pain.
  • Siento que te conozco desde siempre. I feel I have known you forever.

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