My main confusion is in regards to the differences between English and French when expressing the fact that something hasn't been done in a given period of time, specifically ça fait and depuis.

For example: 'I have been here for 3 days' = ça fait trois jours que je suis ici

'I have been learning french for 3 years = ça fait trois ans que j'apprends le Français.


I haven't seen him in a long time = ça fait longtemps que je l'ai pas vu

I haven't played the piano in years = ça fait des années j'ai pas joué le piano

I haven't eaten in 6 hours = ça fait six heures que j'ai pas mangé

Am I correct in supposing that the last two French translations can also be equivalent to the following English versions:

'It's been a long time since I've seen him'

'It's been years since I've played piano.'

'Its been 6 hours since I've eaten.'

Simply, while there are two ways of expressing in English the fact that something hasn't been done for a period of time, it is more natural to use a only a negative construction in French (i.e. Je l'ai pas vue depuis longtemps). Is that correct?

This seems self evident since an expression of NOT having done something would be expressed in the negative, but the affirmative construction in English is throwing me off a little.

If any translations are in need of correcting, please don't hesitate to do so. Thanks in advance :)

  • What you are asking is not clear; the examples you give, both English and French are correct and the translations are exact; your comments in English are however full of errors that add to the difficulty in reading you. You might try to rework your comments.
    – LPH
    Oct 14, 2018 at 23:10
  • 'Full of errors' is rather vague feedback. Please specify what exactly is confusing you as it seems to me that my question is outlined quite clearly after my examples. To be clear, it concerns mainly he last 3 examples after 'however.' In english, we can say that it has been a long time since we HAVE DONE something or we can say that we HAVEN'T DONE something in a long time. Both express the same sentiment but the former is an affirmative construction and the latter is a negative construction. I simply wanted to confirm whether in french, it is only a negative construction ... Oct 15, 2018 at 0:14
  • Imo, your English is good and your concern seems clear. You find that whereas English prefers "a long time since I saw him" (affirmative), French prefers "longtemps que je l'ai pas vu" (negative). You're looking for confirmation and explanation of the different preferences. To which my tentative answer would be that those seem like the least cumbersome options in their respective languages. Compare the alternatives: "a long time during which I haven't seem him" and "depuis la dernière fois que je l'ai vu" — both a bit of a pain!
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 15, 2018 at 0:16
  • Ouais bhein... on dira quand même ici avec @user168676 que ... ça l'fait pas!... et... en particulier, pour moi, ici, le concept curieux de "self evidences"...
    – MC68020
    Oct 15, 2018 at 0:17
  • ...that is used (i.e ça fait longtemps que je l'ai pas vu/je l'ai pas vu depuis longtemps - both these versions require the negation of 'voir' but in english, as you confirmed, they can be translated as 'its been a long time since i've seen him/her', a sentence in which there is no negation). That is all. Oct 15, 2018 at 0:19

1 Answer 1


I think your translations are good, except that you have to add the negation in the negative form, even if journalists and advertisers today, like to omit it: It's really a fault that alters the language, because "pas" and "point" are not negations at all: They define the smallest distance("pas") or the smallest object("point"), so they mean 1 and not 0: They have to be preceded by "ne" to mean 0, so you should have written:

ça fait longtemps que je ne l'ai pas vu

Now, talking about the fact that in French we would use only the negative form to express a distance in time, I think it's not quite true, because you can say:

ça fait 5 ans que je ne l'ai pas vu

but you can also say:

Je l'ai vu il y a 5 ans

The difference between these both expressions is that the negative form shows the duration with some insistance, meanwhile the positive form marks the distance as a simple fact.

  • 1
    Oh yeah, thank you for pointing that out. I am currently in france where the people almost almost alway omit the 'ne' in negation when speaking so it sometimes seeps into my writing. Thanks for the response :) Oct 15, 2018 at 11:58
  • It would have been kind of you to upvote my answer, wouldn't it?
    – BBBreiz
    Oct 15, 2018 at 13:45
  • @BBBreiz Hi, BBBreiz, to what answer are you referring? User1238012 is the only official answer while the rest are all comments. I would be happy to upvote it otherwise :) Oct 15, 2018 at 21:29
  • @BBBreiz It seems obvious you created a duplicate account for some reason. You might flag your reply and ask for a moderator to merge the accounts.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 15, 2018 at 22:05
  • Cette réponse est bien carrée, merci. Toutefois, si vous dites : « Je l'ai vu il y a cinq ans », cela sous-entend que vous ne l'avez pas vue depuis … ce qui est a contrario bien sûr explicite dans : « ça fait cinq ans que je ne l'ai pas vu ». Rappel pour Armaan Kapila : effectivement, la marque de la négation est « ne » (e.g. dans « ne …pas »), mais elle tend à être omise au profit de « pas » employé absolument, i.e. seul. C'est pas c… ce que je dis, mais ce n'est pas très encourageant non plus.
    – 5915961T
    Jan 4, 2019 at 0:19

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