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While talking with somebody about traveling, he commented:

"But you Spanish speakers are used to express distances in hours, right?" An Italian unknown.

I was unaware of that. Let me formalize just a little. What he meant, is that to the question

¿Qué tan lejos está X de Y?

Spanish spekers tend to reply in time units, instead of (kilo)meters. But I must admit I unconsciously do say:

  1. Mi casa está a media hora del centro.
  2. X ciudad queda a 5 horas en autobús de Y ciudad.

(But of course nobody says Mi país mide x horas en autobús.)

Does that rule in general holds? (I mean, the first quote).

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

That's a very commom way to express distances but not used to measure things. If you assumme average speed when doing the trip, physics says

distance = time*speed

So, in this case, distance is equivalent to time. If there is only one way to do the trip, you can expect "a 3 horas de aquí", but if there are more possibilties, you can say "a 1 hora en bus o 20 minutos en taxi por la autopista".

Myself, I don't remember expressing distances in real "distance" units in Spanish. My guess is when you have a complex topography, time is more appropiate to indicate the "distance" than the distance itself (cause you don't have constant speed and need to integrate over all the path).

But, if speed is constant, talking about distances actually is a good indicator of the distance. And that's my guess of explanation.

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I think that comes from our limited knowledge of dircerning distances in meters/kilometers. It is easier to say 5 minutes than how many KM. That is harder to say, i guess...

So yes. That´s very often used. But just when travelling from one site to another. Not saying sizes of things (size of a country, size of a house)...

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There is nothing wrong with using time to express the length of a trip in spanish, and when you think about it it does make sense.

If you want to go from place A to place B you might want to know how long it'll take you to get there, instead of the exact distance there is between the 2 places. Having said that, if you do ask for the distance between 2 points, the answer will be in length, be it KMs in this case.

This of course doesn't apply when talking about things that have nothing to do with traveling, like if someone asked how far was your computer at the office from the bathroom, you won't find yourself saying 1 or 2 minutes.

So no, expressing distances with time might be used, but it's not a rule.

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