The French prepositions depuis, pendant, and-far less commonly-pour each express the duration of an event. Each verb varies slightly in its meaning in a way that can be quite confusing for French language learners. English speakers often mix up depuis and pendant and overuse pour. The explanations and examples below illustrate the different meanings and uses for each preposition.
Depuis means "since" or "for." It is used with a French verb in the present tense to talk about an action that began in the past and continues in the present. In English, this is indicated by the present perfect or present perfect progressive. The following examples show how to use depuis correctly in sentences:
- Depuis quand étudiez-vous le français? -> How long have you studied French?
- J'étudie le français depuis trois ans. -> I've studied French for three years (and still do).
- J'étudie le français depuis 2009. -> I've been studying French since 2009.
Depuis can also indicate something that was occurring in the past when it was interrupted by some other action. In French, this is stated with the imparfait plus passé composé; in English, with the past perfect progressive plus simple past. This is illustrated in the following examples:
- Depuis combien de temps dormais-tu quand je suis arrivé? -> How long had you been sleeping when I arrived?
- Il vivait en France depuis deux ans quand je l'ai vu. -> He'd been living in France for two years when I saw him.
Pendant means "for" and refers to the entire duration of an action in the past or future, with no relation to the present. For example:
- Pendant combien de temps avez-vous étudié le français? -> How long did you study French?
- J'ai étudié le français pendant trois ans. -> I studied French for three years (and then stopped).
- Je vais habiter en France pendant deux mois. -> I'm going to live in France for two months.
Pendant followed by a noun means "during." In this sense, it is synonymous with durant.
- J'ai vu un film pendant mon séjour. -> I saw a film during my stay.
- Pendant ce temps, il m'attendait. -> During this time, he waited for me.
Pour can express the duration of an event only in the future. Note that pendant could also be used in all of these.
- Je vais y habiter pour deux mois. -> I'm going to live there for two months.
- Il étudiera en Europe pour trois ans. -> He'll study in Europe for three years.
- Le projet est suspendu pour un an. -> The project is suspended for a year.
- Je vais y habiter pour un an. -> I'm going to live there for a year.
- Il parlera pour une heure. -> He will speak for an hour.
- Je serai en France pour un an. -> I'll be in France for a year.
Although the verb in the final example is not in the future, the use of pour indicates that the one-year suspension is either about to start or is currently underway. If the suspension had already occurred, you would have to use pendant, as in this example:
- Le projet a été suspendu pendant un an. -> The project was suspended for a year.