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

Time expressions - part VII - Duration forms - more 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 VI - Duration forms - constructions


USING THE FUTURE TENSES

With regard to the two future tenses (namely simple future and future perfect), they can be freely used with per:

(Noi) cammineremo per mezz'ora. = We'll walk for half an hour / We may walk (a conjecture) for half an hour.

(Noi) avremo camminato per mezz'ora. = We will have walked / We may have walked (a conjecture) for half an hour. 

Instead, the use of the future tenses with da poses some limitations.
The simple future should be best used in the progressive form (stare + gerund):

(Noi) staremo camminando da mezz'ora. = We'll have been walking / We may have been walking for half an hour.

(Noi) staremo camminando dalle cinque. = We'll have been walking / We may have been walking since five o'clock.

The simple form sounds very informal (using the progressive form is much better), and it is almost exclusively used with a conjectural meaning:

(Noi) cammineremo da mezz'ora. = We may have been walking for half an hour.

(Noi) cammineremo dalle cinque. = We may have been walking since five o'clock.

The future perfect can only be used before da + starting time, but not when a time length is mentioned:

(Noi) avremo camminato dalle cinque. = We'll have been walking / We may had been walking (a conjecture about a past action) since five o'clock .

but

(Noi) avremo camminato da mezz'ora. ← wrong!

For the latter type of time setting, per can be used, although it describes a finished action:

(Noi) avremo camminato per mezz'ora. = We may have walked for half an hour.


DURATION FORM WITH ESSERE ... DAAND VERBS THAT EXPRESS A LONG-LASTING ACTION

When the main verb of the sentence is essere, in English the verb takes the simple form, rather than the progressive form (see the examples).
Essere can be followed more often by an adjective (i.e. an adjectival predicate), but also by a noun (a nominal predicate), a pronoun (a pronominal predicate), or an adverb (an adverbial predicate). For instance:

Paolo è malato da venerdì scorso. = Paul has been ill since last Friday  (not "has been being ill").

(Noi) siamo qui da un'ora. = We have been here for an hour  (not "we have been being here").

Kennedy era presidente da tre anni quando fu ucciso. = Kennedy had been president for three years when he was killed  (not "had been being president").

When using the verb "to know", which always expresses a long-lasting action, the simple form of the tense is used, but only with da + starting time (→ "since").
Instead, da + time length forces the English speaker to use the present perfect or the past perfect tenses instead of the simple present and simple past, respectively:

(Noi) conosciamo suo fratello dagli anni '70. = We know his / her brother since the 1970s (not "we have been knowing").

(Noi) conoscevamo suo fratello dagli anni '70. = We knew / used to know his/her brother since the 1970s (not "we had been knowing").

but

(Noi) conosciamo suo fratello da molti anni. = We have known his/her brother for many years (not "we know", nor "we have been knowing").

(Noi) conoscevamo suo fratello da molti anni. = We had known his/her brother for many years. (not "we knew/we used to know", nor "we had been knowing").

Also with other verbs that express a long-lasting action, e.g. "to live", "to work", and a few more, the simple form of the tense can be optionally used in English, but only with da + starting time (→ "since"), not with da + length of time (→ "for"), which follows the usual pattern:

Maria vive a Torino dal giugno scorso. = Mary has been living / Mary lives in Turin since last June.

(Io) lavoravo in quell'ufficio dal 2009. = I had been working / I worked in that office since 2009.

but

Maria vive a Torino da sei mesi. = Mary has been living in Turin for six months  (only solution).

(Io) lavoravo in quell'ufficio da dieci anni. = I had been working in that office for ten years  (only solution).

When the main verb is essere, the construction da + length of time (→ "for") has the same tense limitations as with any other verb, i.e. only the present and imperfect tenses can be used:

Giulia è sposata da sei anni. = Julia has been married for six years.

Giulia era sposata da sei anni. = Julia had been married for six years.

Any other past tense would sound wrong:

Giulia è stata sposata da sei anni.wrong!

The future tense is rarely used with its formal meaning:

Tra una settimana Giulia sarà sposata da sei anni. = In one week's time, Julia will have been married for six years.

but it is much more often used with a conjectural meaning, expressing the speaker's personal guess:

Giulia sarà sposata da sei anni. = Julia may have been married for six years.

Instead, da + starting time (→ "since") can be followed by any tense, but:

(1) the present and imperfect tenses express an unfinished action, other past tenses express a finished action;
(2) the compound tenses (passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo) translate into English in the same way as the Italian present and imperfect, and may seem redundant.

Giulia è sua moglie dal 1975. (present) = Julia has been his wife since 1975 (literally: "Julia is his wife since 1975").

Giulia era sua moglie dal 1975. (imperfect) = Julia had been his wife since 1975 (literally: "Julia was his wife since 1975").

Giulia fu sua moglie dal 1975. (passato remoto) = Julia was his wife since 1975.

Giulia è stata sua moglie dal 1975. (passato prossimo) = Julia has been his wife since 1975. (→ redundant)

Giulia era stata sua moglie dal 1975. (trapassato prossimo) = Julia had been his wife since 1975. (→ redundant)

Tenses marked as redundant are not wrong; actually, they sound redundant only in the English translation, while in Italian they are regularly used. This is what each of the aforesaid sentences conveys:

Giulia è sua moglie dal 1975. → Julia is still his wife (the sentence is set in the present)

Giulia era sua moglie dal 1975. → Julia was still his wife (the sentence is set in the past)

Giulia fu sua moglie dal 1975. → Julia was his wife a long time ago, but she no longer is now (using the passato remoto infers that either she or her husband are now likely dead)

Giulia è stata sua moglie dal 1975. → Julia was his wife (an indefinite time ago), but she no longer is his wife now; using the passato prossimo likely means that they are still alive (e.g. divorced)

Giulia era stata sua moglie dal 1975. → Julia had been his wife (the sentence is set in the past), but after some time she no longer was his wife (they may have divorced, or either of the two may have died)

As you can see, a careful choice of the right tense can convey more information than the English translation does.


PRIMA DI, PIÙ DI, MENO DI

When the da + starting time construction is used (→ "since"), the expression prima di ("before") can be used. Compare the following couples of sentences:

Gianni studia il francese da maggio scorso. = John has been studying French since last May.
Gianni studia il francese da prima di maggio scorso. = John has been studying French since before last May.

Sara dormiva dalle undici. = Sarah had been sleeping since eleven o'clock.
Sara dormiva da prima delle undici. = Sarah had been sleeping since before eleven o'clock.

But da prima di + length of time (→ "for before") would make no sense:

Gianni studia il francese da prima di cinque mesi. = John has been studying French for before five months. ← wrong!

Sara dormiva da prima di tre ore. = Sarah had been sleeping for before three hours. ← wrong!

The antonym expression da dopo ("since after") is seldom used, and it can very often sound odd (it may sound odd in English, as well), so it is best avoided.

Instead, with da + length of time, the expressions più di ("more than", "over"), or meno di ("less than") can be used:

Gianni studia il francese da più di cinque mesi. = John has been studying French for over five months.

Sara dormiva da meno di tre ore. = Sarah had been sleeping for less than three hours.

Obviously, neither più di nor meno di can be used with da + starting time:

Gianni studia il francese da più di maggio scorso . = John has been studying French since more than last May. ← wrong!

Sara dorme da meno delle undici. = Sarah has been sleeping since less than eleven o'clock. ← wrong!


DURATION FORM IN NEGATIVE SENTENCES

When the Italian sentence is negative, in English the simple form of the verb is used, rather than the progressive form:

(Io) vedo Paolo da quasi un anno. = I have been seeing Paul for almost one year.

but:

(Io) non vedo Paolo da quasi un anno. = I have not seen Paul for / in almost one year. (not "I have not been seeing Paul...")

Some more examples in negative form:

(Noi) non mangiamo pizza dal mese scorso. = We have not eaten pizza since the past month. (not "we have not been eating pizza...")

Maria non leggeva un giornale da tre giorni. = Mary had not read a newspaper for / in three days. (not "Mary had not been reading...")

La squadra non perde un incontro dal 2018. = The team has not lost a match since 2018. (not "the team has not been loosing...")

Non piove da diverse settimane. = It has not rained for / in several weeks. (not "it has not been raining...")

Beware that when "to work" means "to function" (rather than "to do a job"), it behaves as if the verb was considered in its progressive form, "to be working", so:

Gianni non lavora da tre giorni. = John has not worked for three days  (not "has not been working").

but

Il televisore non funziona da tre giorni. = The TV set has not been working for three days  (not "has not worked").


EMPHATIC CONSTRUCTION STARTING WITH ESSERE

Wishing to place some emphasis on the time span, a different construction can be used, which starts with the verb essere followed by the time reference (da + time length or da + starting time), and by the conjunction che. This also makes the sentence sound more colloquial than the standard construction.
When using per + time length, instead, the emphatic construction is not very common (it is best avoided, lest the risk of sounding odd).

Contrary to the general rule according to which in Italian the last part of the sentence sounds somewhat emphasised, in this construction the opening part takes more weight (this is basically a cleft sentence).

The emphatic construction cannot be used in English when the sentence is affirmative (positive), so it translates exactly as if the standard construction was used.
Instead, the emphatic construction can be used when the sentence is negative.

Compare the following pairs of sentences:

(Noi) frequentiamo questo corso da gennaio. = We have been attending this course since January.
È da gennaio che (noi) frequentiamo questo corso. [emphatic] = We have been attending this course since January. (literally: "it is since January that we attend this course")

(Noi) frequentavamo questo corso da sei mesi. = We had been attending this course for six months.
Era da sei mesi che (noi) frequentavamo questo corso. [emphatic] = We had been attending this course for six months. (literally: "it was since six months that we were attending this course")

Here is one example with per + time length which sounds acceptable:

Noi frequentammo questo corso per sei mesi. = We attended this course for six months.
Fu per sei mesi che (noi) frequentammo questo corso. [emphatic] = We attended this course for six months.  (literally: "it was for six months that we attended this course")

In this emphatic construction, the verb essere is always used in third person singular, with the same tense as the other verb (è → noi frequentiamo, present; era → noi frequentavamo, imperfect; fu → noi frequentammo, passato remoto).

Further examples:

È da lunedì scorso che l'ascensore è guasto. = The lift has been out of order since last Monday.

È da due ore che Maria e Sara guardano la TV. = Mary and Sarah have been watching the TV for two hours.

È dalle nove che Roberto è al telefono con Andrea. = Robert has been on the phone with Andrew since nine o'clock.

Era da tre giorni che la neve cadeva. = The snow had been falling for three days.

THE EMPHATIC CONSTRUCTION IN NEGATIVE FORM

When the emphatic contruction is used with a negative sentence, the English translation allows a dual construction.

One construction follows the general guidelines mentioned so far, i.e. the English tense is simple, and the sentence is identical to the one used for the Italian plain construction (the emphasis on the time length can be expressed by raising the voice pitch).
The other construction is emphatic, starting with It has been [time length] since..., but the verb is used in affirmative (positive) form, not negative, as it is in Italian. This type of construction can be used only for translating da + time length:

Roberto non beve vino da due anni. [plain] = Robert has not drunk wine for / in two years.

È da due anni che Roberto non beve vino. [emphatic]  = Robert has not drunk wine for / in two years.

or (alternative translation):

It has been two years since Robert drank / has drunk wine. (not "did not drink" / "has not drunk wine")

With da + starting time, instead, the emphatic construction cannot be used in English:

Roberto non beve vino da gennaio scorso. [plain] = Robert has not drunk wine since last January.

È da due anni che Roberto non beve vino. [emphatic]  = Robert has not drunk wine since last January. (only solution)

A few more examples of emphatic construction with a negative verb:

È da un mese che non piove. = It has not rained for / in one month.
  alternative translation:
It has been a / one month since it rained.

È da marzo che non piove. = It has not rained since March. (only solution)

Era da quattro anni che noi non andavamo in vacanza. = We hadn't gone on a holiday for four years.
  alternative translation:
It had been four years since we had gone on a holiday.

Era dall'estate del 2015 che noi non andavamo in vacanza. = We hadn't gone on a holiday since the summer of 2015. (only solution)

DROPPING DA

Colloquially, in the emphatic construction essere da + time length (→ "for"), the preposition is often dropped:

(Io) frequento questo corso da un mese. [plain] = I have been attending this course for one month.

È da un mese che (io) frequento questo corso. [emphatic] = I have been attending this course for one month (literally: "It is one month that I attend this course").

which is often spoken as:

È un mese che frequento questo corso. = (same as above)

Other examples:

È da mezz'ora che il cane abbaia. = The dog has been barking for half an hour.
  is often spoken as:
È mezz'ora che il cane abbaia.

Era da tre settimane che Piero seguiva la dieta. = Peter had been following the diet for three weeks.
  is often spoken as:
Erano tre settimane che Piero seguiva la dieta.
  or alternatively:
Era tre settimane che Piero seguiva la dieta.

Focus on the last example, in which Era da tre settimane can turn into Erano tre settimane, because without da most average speakers perceive the verb as connected to tre settimane (a plural noun → the verb agreement requires the plural person).
But since this is the result of having dropped the preposition, another agreement can be in the singular form: Era da tre settimane. So both of them are allowed.

Further examples (note the dual agreement of the verb):

È / Sono due giorni che piove. = It has been raining for two days.

Era / Erano cinque ore che (io) provavo a telefonarti. = I had been trying to telephone you for five hours.

È / Sono sei mesi che Laura studia il francese. = Laura has been studying French for six months.

With a negative verb:

È da tre settimane che l'insegnante non viene a scuola. = The teacher has not come to school for / in three weeks. 
  often spoken as:
È / Sono tre settimane che l'insegnante non viene a scuola.
  alternative translation: 
It is three weeks since the teacher came to school.

È dallo scorso settembre che il supermercato non vende più questa marca. = The supermarket has no longer sold this brand since last September. 
  here da cannot be dropped, because the starting time is mentioned;
  no alternative translation in English (emphatic construction) is possible for the same reason.

Era da diversi anni che (noi) non andavamo in montagna. = We had not gone to the mountains for / in several years. 
  often spoken as:
Era / Erano diversi anni che (noi) non andavamo in montagna.
  alternative translation: 
It had been several years since we had gone to the mountains.

Instead, da is never dropped when the starting time is mentioned:

Era da maggio scorso che Piero usava l'auto nuova. = Peter had been using the new car since last May.

Era maggio scorso che Piero usava l'auto nuova.wrong!


IDIOMS INDICATING A LONG TIME

Some idiomatic expressions are frequently used for indicating generically a very long time (i.e. always a time length). The most common ones are:

da una vita = literally, "for/since a lifetime",
da un'eternità = literally, "for/since an eternity"
da un secolo ~ da secoli = literally, "for/since a century", "for/since centuries"

They are used in figurative sense, and are not translatable literally, but with similar expressions, such as "for ages", "for too long", etc.
The exaggeration underlines that the length of time is considered extremely long, or too long. So, according to the sentence, "a lifetime" or "a century" can be as short as half an hour, or even less:

Questo semaforo è rosso da una vita. = This traffic-light has been red for too long (literally: "for a lifetime").

(Io) non vedo tua sorella da un secolo. = I haven't seen you sister for / in ages.
  alternative translation (emphatic construction):
It has been ages since I saw / have seen your sister.

È da un'eternità che (noi) aspettiamo l'autobus. [emphatic] = We have been waiting for the bus for too long.

Erano secoli che (noi) non andavamo al cinema. [emphatic] = We hadn't gone to the cinema for / in ages.
  alternative translation (emphatic construction):
It had been ages since we had gone to the cinema.

June 17, 2019

10 Comments

Sorted by top post

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

Una cosa è certa... Non mi basterà una vita per venirne a capo!

Grazie, Civis!
Lo archivierò nell'Iperuranio per la prossima. ;-)

June 17, 2019

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

Su, su... che ho i prossimi in cantiere. :-P

June 17, 2019

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

Non vale però!!!!
Avevi detto: "... settima e ultima parte." :-(

June 17, 2019

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

Intendevo su altri argomenti. :-)

June 17, 2019

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

Ah, beh, allooora...!!!

P.S.
So che non te ne importa nulla, è solo a titolo informativo: Mi è venuta l'orticaria!!! (>_<)
Potrebbero, anche, esser state le fragole, ma... ne dubito!

June 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Algarve11

Grazie!!

June 17, 2019

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

I find it interesting that you translate the names in your examples, maybe because my name is very untranslatable (and gives no end of problems to the Italians). : ) Impeccable explanations as always!

June 17, 2019

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

I think it's a sign of my age. :-P
But I think that translating names like my own, or Nicola, or Simone, may be of some practical use to learners. :-D
Thanks for the appreciation!

June 17, 2019

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

Grazie mille. Seven wonderful lessons. Thank you again for doing so much for us. You will always be my Italian superhero!

June 18, 2019

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

Grazie delle belle parole, HelenDaisy!

June 18, 2019
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