top of page

It’s Been How Long? How To Use “...depuis”

Sentence Structures In English And French Are Often Quite Different

If you have had occasion to listen to a beginner or intermediate French person speaking English you may have heard them say something like, “I live in the United States since four months,” instead of, “I have lived in the United States for four months.” Sound familiar? Today you will learn why this is such a common mistake for French speakers, and you will learn why YOU make exactly the reverse error when you are trying to speak French!

The Palace of Versailles
"Je ne t'ai pas vu depuis longtemps !”

Using “depuis

Try translating this English sentence into French: “I have lived in Paris for four months.”

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Time’s up.

Did you say, “J’ai habité à Paris pour quatre mois.” ? Yes? That sounds like a proper literal translation, but sorry, that’s an incorrect translation. You get a goose egg. This is the reverse error I told you that you would make.

If you said, “J’habite à Paris depuis quatre mois”, then you’re brilliant! Correct! That earns you a gold star! But you may still find something a little tricky at the end of this blog.

A Different Sentence Structure Than In English―

Using The Present Tense With Depuis In Affirmative Sentences

Because in English we say, “I have lived…”, when trying to speak French, we naturally want to use the same sentence structure. We try to translate “I have lived” directly into French and say, “J’ai habité…” (passé composé).

But that’s not the way the French express an action that started in the past and continues into the present when they are using depuis. They use the present tense followed by depuis (since, or for) plus the duration of time because the action continues into the present. So, you see, there is some logic to using the present tense.

J’habite à Paris depuis quatre mois. I have lived in Paris for four months. (A literal translation, of course, would be, “I live in Paris since four months.” Sounds strange to the English ear, but this is how the French say it.)

Here are some more examples:

Je suis avocat depuis 2015. I have been a lawyer since 2015.

Je joue au tennis depuis dix ans. I have played tennis for ten years.

Vous travaillez chez Renault depuis longtemps ? You have worked at Renault for a long time?

Il est ingénieur depuis de nombreuses années. He has been an engineer for many years.

Note that all the verbs are present tense (présent de l’indicatif) and that we never use pour (for) in this context of an action that started in the past and continues to the present.

...use the present tense followed by depuis (since, or for) plus the duration of time

Using Passé Composé With Depuis In Negative Sentences

Notice that none of the sentences above are negative (ne…pas) sentences. They are all affirmative sentences.

But things change when we create negative sentences using depuis. When creating negative sentences we DO use the passé composé tense (like you wanted to in the first place!), not the présent as in affirmative sentences. Here, perhaps, could be one reason why the language evolved this way: unlike affirmative statements, negative statements no longer continue to the present. Look at these examples:

Je n’ai pas habité à Paris depuis quatre mois. I have not lived in Paris for four months.

Je ne t’ai pas vu depuis longtemps ! I have not seen you for a long time!

On n’a pas voyagé en France depuis dix ans. We have not traveled to France in ten years.

Tu n’as pas fumé depuis cinq ans ? You haven’t smoked in ten years?

An exception (there's ALWAYS an exception in French!) to this rule of using the passé composé with negative sentences is the use of (no more, or any more). In this instance we keep the présent tense.

Je ne fume plus depuis cinq ans. I haven’t smoked any more for ten years?

Je ne vis plus à Paris depuis 2 ans. I haven’t lived in Paris any more for two years.

So there you have it. Use the présent tense with depuis for affirmative sentences, and use the passé composé tense with depuis for negative sentences. Easy, for sure, but sometimes hard to remember when you are speaking and constructing sentences on the fly.


Want to really make progress with your conversational French? To actually be able to speak?

Have you studied French in the past only to feel at the end like you can't actually speak a word?

Now you can take the complete Instant French Course online with personal one-on-one tutoring from Julie or Pauline for only $395!

The quickest, most efficient and thoroughly enjoyable method to achieve your dream of actually speaking French! The cost-effective Complete Instant French Course includes our richly illustrated textbook, 15 half-hour videos, downloadable practice audio files and 6 fifty-minute personal tutoring sessions with co-author Julie Beaufort, or editor, Pauline Lalanne. It's your best opportunity ever to actually speak clearly and confidently after just several months. Learn more about how to quickly prepare for your trip to France by clicking HERE!


If you liked this blog, subscribe or become a member by clicking on the Log In/Sign Up icon in the right upper corner. After signing up you can hit the down arrow in the Log In space to fill in your profile and upload your photo if you wish. You'll get an email notification and link for each new blog post. And, as a member, you'll be able to create your own profile, comment on blog posts, and make contact with other like-minded members. Become a member now! It's quick and easy.

329 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page