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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Time expressions - part VI - Duration forms - constructions

Other parts:
part I - The parts of the day
part II - The days of the week
part III - The months and the seasons of the year
part IV - Years and centuries
part V - Duration forms - prepositions
part VII - Duration forms - more constructions


In order to express that an action has been taking place over a certain time, in English the following construction is used:

it has been [verb]-ing for [the duration of the action]

This -ing form of the verb is the present participle (not to be confused with the gerund, which has the same ending).
For instance:

  • The dog has been barking for two hours.

If set in the past:

  • The dog had been barking for two hours.

This construction marks a main difference between the two languages, because in Italian it always changes into:

it [verb in indicative mood] since [the duration of the action]

So the aforesaid examples literally sound as:

  • The dog is barking since two hours.

and

  • The dog was barking since two hours.

Putting this into practice:

Il cane abbaia da due ore.

and

Il cane abbaiava da due ore.

Some further examples:

(Io) lavoro in quell'ufficio da due anni. = I have been working in that office for two years.
(Io) lavoravo in quell'ufficio da due anni. = I had been working in that office for two years.

L'insegnante parla da mezz'ora. = The teacher has been speaking for half an hour.
L'insegnante parlava da mezz'ora. = The teacher had been speaking for half an hour.

Noi abitiamo in questa casa da sei mesi. = We have been living in this house for six months.
Noi abitavamo in questa casa da sei mesi. = We had been living in this house for six months.

If wishing to remark that the action is (or was) in progress, the progressive form of the verb can be used (stare + gerund):

(Io) sto lavorando in quell'ufficio da due anni. = I have been working in that office for two years.
(Io) stavo lavorando in quell'ufficio da due anni. = I had been working in that office for two years.

L'insegnante sta parlando da mezz'ora. = The teacher has been speaking for half an hour.
L'insegnante stava parlando da mezz'ora. = The teacher had been speaking for half an hour.

With verbs that describe a naturally long-lasting action, though, such as abitare ("to live"), the progressive form sounds odd (it would sound correct only in very specific contexts), so usually only the simple form is used:

Noi stiamo abitando in questa casa da sei mesi. ← sounds rather odd!
Noi stavamo abitando in questa casa da sei mesi. ← sounds rather odd!

Instead of the time length of the action, after da the starting moment of the action can be mentioned; in this second construction the preposition da translates to "since":

Il cane abbaia da stamattina. = The dog has been barking since this morning
Il cane abbaiava da stamattina. = The dog had been barking since this morning

(Io) lavoro in quell'ufficio dal 2015. = I have been working in that office since 2015.
(Io) lavoravo in quell'ufficio dal 2015. = I had been working in that office since 2015.

L'insegnante parla dalle nove e mezza. = The teacher has been speaking since half past nine.
L'insegnante parlava dalle nove e mezza. = The teacher had been speaking since half past nine.

This construction can indirectly tell us also the time length of the action, because if the verb is spoken in the present tense, the time setting of the sentence is the present time, while using the imperfect tense the time setting of the sentence is understood from the context:

Il cane abbaia da stamattina. (the time length is from this morning to the present time)
Il cane abbaiava da stamattina. (the time length is from this morning to the time setting of the sentence)

(Io) lavoro in quell'ufficio dal 2015. (from 2015 to present)
(Io) lavoravo in quell'ufficio dal 2015. (from 2015 to the time setting of the sentence)

Since these two constructions (da + length of time and da + starting time) describe an action in progress, only few tenses can be used, i.e. the ones that describe an unfinished action, namely present and imperfect. Any tense used for finished actions would sound improper, thus wrong:

Il cane abbaiò da due ore. (passato remoto) → wrong!
Il cane ha abbaiato da due ore. (passato prossimo) → wrong!

Il cane abbaiò da stamattina. (passato remoto) → wrong!
Il cane ha abbaiato da stamattina. (passato prossimo) → wrong, but sometimes heard in the informal language (the simple present should be used in this case)

(Io) lavorai in quell'ufficio da due settimane. (passato remoto) → wrong!
(Io) ho lavorato in quell'ufficio da due settimane. (passato prossimo) → wrong!

(Io) lavorai in quell'ufficio dal 2015. (passato remoto) →wrong!
(Io) ho lavorato in quell'ufficio dal 2015. (passato prossimo) → wrong, but sometimes heard in the informal language (the simple present should be used, to remark that the action is still in progress).

Note that when using da + starting time, in the informal language the passato remoto tense is sometimes used instead of the present tense, but this is not grammatical.

Only when using both da + starting time and a (or fino a) + finishing time, the action is no longer described as in progress, but finished (because the finishing time is mentioned), so this allows also the use of the passato remoto (if the action described is set in the far past), the passato prossimo and the trapassato prossimo:

Il cane abbaiò da stamattina a ora di pranzo. (passato remoto) → wrong, because the sentence is set in the recent past
Il cane ha abbaiato da stamattina a ora di pranzo. (passato prossimo) = The dog (has) barked from this morning till lunchtime.
Il cane aveva abbaiato da stamattina a ora di pranzo. (passato prossimo) = The dog had barked from this morning till lunchtime.

(Io) lavorai in quell'ufficio dal 2015 fino al 2017. = I worked in that office from 2015 up to 2017.
(Io) ho lavorato in quell'ufficio dal 2015 fino al 2017. = I (have) worked in that office from 2015 up to 2017.
(Io) avevo lavorato in quell'ufficio dal 2015 fino al 2017. = I had worked in that office from 2015 up to 2017.

As you can see, in such case also the English sentence makes clear that the action is no longer in progress.


A third construction is the one that uses per + time length.
This construction is quite different from the previous ones, because only the overall time length of the action can be understood, but not the starting moment.
Compare the following sentences:

(Io) lavoro da due settimane. = I have been working for two weeks. (Io) lavoro per due settimane. = I work for two weeks.

The second sentence does not give the listener any clue as to when the working action started. It only mentions the length of the action (two weeks).

Moreover, when the sentence is set in the past, there is no tense limitation with per (unlike when using da):

In estate (io) lavoro per due mesi in quel resort. [present] = In the summer, I work for two months in that resort. (habitual action)
In estate (io) lavoravo per due settimane in quel resort. [imperfect] = In the summer, I used to work for two months in that resort. (habitual action)

In estate (io) lavorerò per due mesi in quel resort. [future] = In the summer, I'll work for two months in that resort.

In estate (io) lavorai per due mesi in quel resort. [passato remoto] = In the summer, I worked for two months in that resort. (finished action)
In estate (io) ho lavorato per due mesi in quel resort. [passato prossimo] = In the summer, I (have) worked for two months in that resort. (finished action)
In estate (io) avevo lavorato per due mesi in quel resort. [trapassato prossimo] = In the summer, I had worked for two months in that resort. (finished action)

Using da forces the sentence to take either the present or the imperfect tense, inferring an unfinished action, while using per poses no limitation, but using the present and imperfect tenses the action sounds as habitual, while using the other past tenses the action sounds as finished.
However, remember that in the colloquial language the simple present is often used in place of the future tense, so

In estate (io) lavoro per due mesi in quel resort.

can be understood either as

In the summer I (usually) work for two months in that resort.

or as

In the summer (next summer) I will be working for two months in that resort.

Which of the two meanings is conveyed can be understood from the context.


Summarizing the three constructions:

da + starting time (→ "since")
this describes an unfinished action, and therefore requires either the present tense or the imperfect tense;

da + length of time (→ "for")
this describes an unfinished action, and therefore requires either the present tense or the imperfect tense;

per + length of time (→ "for")
this can describe a habitual action (→ present tense, imperfect tense), or a future action (→ simple future), or a finished action in the past (→ passato remoto, passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo).

Mio fratello leggeva dalle undici. = My brother had been reading since eleven o'clock.

Mio fratello leggeva da un paio d'ore. = My brother had been reading for a couple of hours.

Mio fratello leggeva per un paio d'ore. = My brother used to read for a couple of hours.
Mio fratello leggerà per un paio d'ore. = My brother will read for a couple of hours.
Mio fratello ha letto per un paio d'ore. = My brother (has) read for a couple of hours.

While the construction with per corresponds to the English one quite literally, the ones with da require a different English tense, i.e. the present perfect or the past perfect in the progressive form → "have been doing / had been doing".

June 12, 2019

16 Comments

Sorted by top thread

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MT.italy

Ma daaai!!!... Pensavo stessi scherzando! :-(

Sto annaspando, nel post precedente... Mi aspettavo che qualcuno mi lanciasse un salvagente... Mi hai scagliato un macino!!!

Grazie,Civis!...Graz...Glu...glu...glu...glu

June 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Ti ritiro subito su con una bella notizia: c'è una settima parte in arrivo. :-D :-D


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MT.italy

"Com'è umano lei".

:-D :-D :-D


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

Thanks for this post! This can be a really tricky thing for English native speakers, since it is SO different from the English structure. Another aspect of this that can be difficult (and for some reason textbooks seem to glance over) is that when you want to talk about the amount of time since you have done something, you often talk about the amount of time you are not doing that action, a sort of non-action in progress. : ) So you'd use the same structure you mention above, but with "non," for example:

Non vado al cinema da un mese. I haven't been to the movies for a month. / It's been a month since I've been to the movies. (Literally: I am not going to the movies since a month.)

Non fumava da due settimane. He hadn't smoked for two weeks.

For some reason I feel like the negative version is harder to wrap your head around, but maybe it's just me. : )

Also useful, ways to say you've been doing (or not doing) something "forever": da sempre, da una vita, da un'eternità (and probably others). : )


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Negative duration forms are included in the seventh and final part (...yes, there's one more to come!), which explores a few peculiar cases. :-)
For instance, a simple tense rather than the progressive form is also used when the main verb of the sentence is essere, e.g. "I have been ill for one week" (not "I have been being ill").

Thanks for reminding me of da sempre, da una vita, etc.! I'll squeeze those ones in, as well


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

I have a friend who's very, very fond of saying things take "una vita" or that she hasn't done something "da una vita"... You'd think she was a cat given the number of lives she goes through. : )


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

It's a very common expression, I too use it a lot, especially with the emphatic construction (basically, a cleft sentence):

  • È una vita che compro questa marca. = I have been buying this brand for a lifetime.

I don't think that the same construction in English ("It's a lifetime since I have been buying this brand") would be acceptable, would it?

And the negative form includes the tricky bit you mentioned:

  • È una vita che non compro questa marca. = It's (been) a lifetime since I (have) bought this brand.

So a negative verb in Italian translates to a positive verb in English, more or less like when the 'pleonastic non' is used (finché non vieni, a meno che non piova, etc.).

This will be included more in detail and with more examples in the seventh part.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

I was wondering if you were going to include the duration structure with “essere.” No, in English we would use that structure just for actions that don’t continue. So:

It’s been forever since I’ve bought that brand. OR I haven’t bought that brand in forever (or “for forever”).

But

I have been buying that brand [for] forever.

With a continued action, “It’s been forever that I have been buying that brand,” it sounds really awkward. Also, “for a lifetime” I’d use just in the literal sense, but it’s possible that in other places it’s used as it is in Italian (i.e., anything from five minutes to an actual lifetime).

Thinking about this structure is giving my brain a workout this morning, haha!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Pietro.F

I don't think that the same construction in English ("It's a lifetime since I have been buying this brand") would be acceptable, would it?

I think the most common way of saying this in English is all my life. (or for my whole life)

  • I've been buying this brand all my life

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

I too think that "all my life" would translate more closely to ...per tutta la vita, or è tutta la vita che... (emphatic construction), referring to the speaker's own life (either in actual sense or in figurative sense), whereas ...da una vita / è una vita che... generically refers to a 'long time' according to the action described, e.g. one could say: è una vita che aspetto l'autobus after a half an hour wait.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

Yes, but “all my life” doesn’t mean the same as “da una vita,” which is used like “forever” to mean “any amount of time that seems long.” As in, the cashier is taking too long and you comment that you’ve been in line forever.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/cristoforoooo

Civis, I appreciate all the hard work you put in here. Bookmarked along with the other ones. Ti sono grato per il tuo aiuto.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Prego, non c'è di che.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/IanthePrince

I bookmark all your great lessons.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JohannesBe321028

Grazie mille per condividere questo post. Era estremamente utile e interessante per me. Penso che tu spieghi i tuoi punti bravissimo.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Grazie per il gradito apprezzamento.

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