il y a/depuis

What’s the difference between il y a and depuis?

The phrases il y a and depuis are expressions that both refer to time; they are similar to the English words ago and for/since. Keep reading to learn which is which, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Le concert a commencé il y a dix minutes.

Hugo et Noémie n’arrêtent pas de danser et de hurler les paroles des chansons. Ils sont si heureux d’être là !

Ils attendaient ce moment depuis des années.

il y a

Moment in the past

The phrase il y a is similar to the English word ago: it tells us when something happened in the past.

Il y a is often used with a verb in the passé composé.

Example:
Le concert a commencé il y a dix minutes.The concert started ten minutes ago.

The focus here is the precise moment when the concert began

depuis

Continuity

We use depuis when we talk about an action that began in the past and is still ongoing at the moment of speaking. It is similar to the English words for/since.

The verb can be in the présent or a past tense.

Example:
Le groupe de rock joue depuis dix minutes.The rock band have been playing for ten minutes.

Here, the duration of the action is emphasised: the band started playing ten minutes ago, and are still playing now.

Check out some more confusing word pairs such as en/dans and bon/bien.