I am just trying to grasp how to use "durante" in Spanish.

I came across an article where it says:

Durante is used most similarly to "during" when it takes a singular object:

For example, "Durante febrero, las condiciones de sequía empeoraron". That is, "During February, drought conditions got worse".

It then goes on with plural uses of durante:

Unlike the English word, durante is freely used with plural periods of time:

For example, "Durante años ha ocupado la atención de nuestros medios de noticias". That is, "For years it has had the attention of our news media".

From these examples, I infered that

1. when used with singular subjects: "durante" usually translates to "during" in English

2 when used with plural subjects: "durante" usually translates to "for" in English

Well then, what about an expression like

durante una hora # clearly singular However, "durante" her translates to "for"

Could someone please explain the 'inner logic' beyond "durante" to me? Also, feel free to provide other examples that show how to express time relations in Spanish so that I can get a hang of it!


The present perfect is used along with for to show how long a period of time has lasted.
Here is when for = durante, it doesn't matter if it's a singular or plural noun.

  1. I've worked here for a year = He trabajado aquí durante un año.
  2. I've worked here for two years = He trabado aquí durante dos años.

We can use for = durante with a past simple form, but the meaning is different:

  1. I worked here for a year = Trabajé aquí durante un año.
  2. I worked here for two years = Trabajé aquí durante un año.

during = durante but is not used with the present perfect.

  • Could you give another example for preterite and imperfecto so that I can see how it workes in these tenses? – Andrew Tobey May 10 '16 at 1:44
  • @AndrewTobey See my updated answer. – Alejandro May 11 '16 at 2:10

I think that the simplest explanation it that "por" means that something has happened during all the extension of the time period mentioned, whereas "durante" points to some occasions during that period:

Durante febrero, las condiciones empeoraron: At some point in February, the conditions got worse, but not necessarily continuously... perhaps the rest of the month was OK but on the 20th they really got worse.

Durante dos años trabajé allí ocasionalmente: I worked there as a temp, on and off.

Trabajé allí por dos años: every day, 9 to 5.

Durante años los científicos pensaron esto: they thought that, but only on the occasions when they gave some attention to the matter.

Por años los científicos pensaron esto: they thought it continuously, with no change of opinion.

That been said, there is still a restriction that "por" needs to be used with indetermined periods (never mind plural/singular):

por años

por tres años

por cinco horas

pero nunca *por el miércoles, *por 1980 (could be used but in the sense of "around 1980"). Durante can be used in all of those cases: durante años, durante 1980.


I disagree with the answer given. Both for and during translate to durante regardless of the number of the following noun. The main difference between both terms in English is that for is generally used with random periods of time, while during is generally used with established or "official" periods of time. That's why in your examples during is used with February, and for is used with hour/years. Even though hour and year are both official and well established units of time, the hour or the years described aren't different from any other hour or set of years, while February is a specific month. Now, Spanish durante doesn't have that limitation: it can be used with any kind of period of time, be it established or not. Thus, you can say:

Durante el verano suelo ir a pescar. (During summer I usually go fishing)

Estuve hablando durante una hora. (I was speaking for an hour)

Durante los fines de semana, el tráfico es menos denso. (During [or on] weekends, traffic is lighter)

Durante milenios no se supo qué causaba la lluvia. (For millenia people didn't know what caused it to rain)

As you can see, the number of the object doesn't have anything to do with using durante or not. Being speculative, the reason why your article says so may be because there are many examples with established periods of time that are used in singular, and not so many that are used in plural. Maybe, the author tried to derive a rule from the examples he or she could think of, and reached the conclusion that number played an important role. In any case, that is not true.

The most common case where you use for in English is with present perfect. The use of present perfect is quite clear-cut in English (at least compared to how it's used in Spanish). In Spanish, however, present perfect is an ill-defined tense, in that its usage varies a great deal from a region to another. In some Latin American countries (I can't put my finger on specific ones), the present perfect is hardly ever used. For example, consider things that just happened:

A (on the phone with B): Where are you?
B: In the park.
A: I've just been there, but I didn't see you.

A (al teléfono con B): ¿Dónde estás?
B: En el parque.
A: Recién estuve ahí, pero no te vi.

As you can see, it's isn't necessary to use a perfect form (recién he estado ahí), even though you're describing something that happened immediately before. The past simple (estuve) or some periphrasis (acabo de venir de ahí) would be more natural-sounding options.

Moving on to Spain, you can see the opposite phenomenon: the present perfect tense is used even when you specify a time reference that clearly belongs to the past:

I saw the most boring movie yesterday.

Ayer he visto un tostón de película.

This is a perfectly natural thing to say in Spain, although most Latin Americans would probably cringe if they heard such a wording.

Where am I getting at with all this? My point is, in English using the present perfect tense immediately tells you the action described is intimately connected to the present. Paired with for, the only logical implication is that the time specified extends to the present. In Spanish, however, the present perfect is much more vague and doesn't necessarily carry this connotation, so saying things like He estado trabajando durante dos horas doesn't necessarily mean you're still working, while I've been working for two hours always does. In these cases, much better alternatives are llevar + gerund or present (simple or continuous) + desde hace, that is:

Llevo trabajando dos horas.

Estoy trabajando desde hace dos horas.

In short, Spanish durante is actually a quite simple term to grasp: just use it whenever you would use either for or during in English, keeping in mind "present perfect + for" structures would be better translated by paraphrasing the original sentence rather than translating it word by word.

  • 2
    I'm sorry but saying ayer he visto ... is completely wrong. The present perfect is focused on the present, and finished time expressions like yesterday don't focus on the present, hence, they contradict each other. – Alejandro May 11 '16 at 2:03
  • 2
    @Ustanak You should be especially careful when saying things such as "completely wrong". What is wrong in your country may be correct in others. Present perfect is the tense that varies the most from one region to another, and the fact that "the present perfect is focused on the present" isn't necessarily true in all regions. I recommend you read aplica.rae.es/grweb/cgi-bin/v.cgi?i=pefpzHtiBmiShkoj and aplica.rae.es/grweb/cgi-bin/v.cgi?i=OnKwkUdhppmoxkIZ. Btw, RAE admits Ha llegado hace dos meses is correct, so how wrong can it be? – Yay May 11 '16 at 8:03
  • What Ustanak describes is the traditional usage of the pretérito perfecto in most of Spain. In Argentina we do it completely different. And so do many other regions. In typical Argentinian usage, we use it to add remoteness... "He hecho mis buenas fechorías de joven... (pero ahora ya asenté cabeza)" – Wences Apr 2 '17 at 15:09

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