How Spanish Expresses Time and Distance

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“It Takes a While”

First, let’s address the question of how to express distance. There is a great verb – distar – which means to be a distance [from] and is followed by the preposition de:

¿Cuánto dista tu casa de la playa? (How far is your house from the beach?)

The answer to this question can be expressed in terms of either time or space:

Dista quince minutos (It’s fifteen minutes away).

Dista un kilómetro (It’s one kilometer away).

The only problem with the verb distar is that it doesn’t seem to be used much, even if it will be understood readily. The preference for most speakers you are likely to run into is:

¿Qué tan lejos/cerca está…? (How far/near is…?)

The answer to this question is usually only a phrase, not a complete sentence (in common speech):

Unos quince minutos (About fifteen minutes).

Un kilómetro (One kilometer).

It is also important to deal with travel time – after all, that is what most people are concerned about when planning a trip, after safety concerns. In order to ask How long does it take to go from … to….?, you can use the verbs tomar, tardarse or durar say any one of the following (note that the word tiempo is understood after the interrogative word cuánto which means how much [time]):

¿Cuánto se toma en ir a tu casa desde la escuela? (How long does it take to go to your house from school?)

¿Cuánto se tarda en llegar a Dallas desde Amarillo? (How long does it take to get to Dallas from Amarillo?)

¿Cuánto dura el viaje de Los Angeles a San Francisco? (How long does a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco last?)

Note that it is important to be able to manage the prepositions that mark point of departure and destination (de, desdefrom and a, hastato).

Finally, note that in the first two examples above, the se construction (impersonal) was used. In the third, the subject was viaje. The first two questions could have been made personal by asking ¿Cuánto tardas…? and ¿Cuánto tomas…? However, durar means to last, so unless you’re talking about physical endurance, something other that the speaker or the person being asked will be the grammatical subject.

This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.

  1. Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
  2. Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
  9. Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
  10. Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
  14. Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
  20. Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
  25. The Word “Country” in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
  28. How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
  31. Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
  33. Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal