Prepositions of time in English (for, ago, since)
To download and print this free PDF course, click here.
Feel free to leave a comment if you find any errors or if you have any suggestions to make to improve this lesson.
For is used to tell how long an action has been going on. For maybe is followed by a duration like 20 minutes, 2 hours, two weeks, three years, three days, six months, a long time…
- I have lived in Paris for three years.
For employed with the present perfect (have been… + v-ing) in front of a time word indicates a length (the action is not over as we speak):
- I have lived in Japan for 3 years.
- He has been working for two hours.
- I have been waiting at the train station for 20 minutes.
Employed with the prétérit, for means that the action is finished:
- He worked in New York for six years.
- She worked in Italy for one year.
- This book will keep me busy for a few days.
Be careful ! No need to use for with ‘all day‘, ‘all the time‘ or ‘all night‘: I was there
for all day.
During or For ?
During does not indicate a duration: during is used to locate something in a specific period, and answers the question “when? (when?). During is usually followed by a name (New Years’ Eve, Christmas, the holidays, the night…).
- He went to Tokyo during the holidays.
- He went to Tokyo for three weeks.
On ne dit pas: He went to Tokyo
during three weeks.
During is not followed by duration (10 minutes, one month…), unless you put it just before the first or the last:
- During the first months of the year, I lost 10 kilos.
- I haven’t been to school during the last week.
We use the adverb Ago to say how much time has passed as we speak since an event occurred. It is often at the end of the sentence, and always preceded by a verb in the preterite (or simple past tense).
- I arrived in Tokyo two years ago.
- She went to China six years ago.
- It happened a very long time ago.
- He started French classes not very long ago.
- How long ago did she start cooking classes?
Ago or before ?
Before is used with the perfect past to count how long ago an event occurred from a specific point in the past:
- We had received their invitation for the wedding three days before.
- We received their invitation for the wedding three days ago.
Do not confuse Ago with There is/ There are
- It happened two days ago ≠ It happened
there istwo days.
Since is used to indicate when an event started (with a starting point). It is used with the present perfect or the past perfect:
- We’ve been friends since high school.
- I haven’t seen her since Monday.
- l’ve lived in Paris since 2005.
- I’ve been learning Spanish since the beginning of the year.
Since maybe an adverb. We can also say since then, which has the same meaning as since:
- I broke up with Julia in May and I haven’t contacted her since then.
Ever reinforces the meaning of since, in the sense of’continuously’:
- He’s been depressed ever since he got divorced.
- We’ve been friends ever since we met in Italy.
Since can also be a synonym of ‘because’:
- Since she is tired, she should stay at home.
- Since you ask, I’ll tell you what happened.
- Tom couldn’t visit Sam since she wasn’t at home.
4. AGO, FOR or SINCE ?
Here are some examples to remember to understand the difference between ago, since and for:
- I lived in Korea 3 years ago.
- I’ve lived in Korea for 3 years.
- I have been living in Korea since 2010.