Q: How can I choose the right preposition to express duration in French? Which one is the proper translation of for?
R: Duration in French can be tricky, but here’s some tips to avoid the most common mistakes.
First of all, when talking about duration, for IS NOT translated as pour in French. I repeat: pour should not be used as for. Now that you know that, you are already half way there.
Use DEPUIS to indicate the beginning of an action that is still going on.
J’apprends le français depuis deux mois (I’ve been learning French for two months. I’m still learning).
J’attends depuis 2 heures (I’ve been waiting for two hours. And I’m still waiting. Can’t they hurry up?).
Il pleut depuis hier (It has been raining since yesterday and unfortunately, it is still raining).
Use PENDANT to indicate the duration of an action that is finished or that has no relation to the present. I know you are tempted to use “for”, but don’t. It’s a common mistake.
J’ai attendu pendant 10 minutes (I waited for 10 minutes. But I’m not waiting anymore).
Je cours tous les jours pendant une heure (I run everyday for an hour. And I am so fit).
J’ai visité l’Europe pendant l’été (I visited Europe during the summer. But I’m not visiting Europe at the moment).
Believe it or not, POUR is rarely used in French to describe a duration. Use pour ONLY when you are referring to a future duration.
Je vais t’aimer pour le reste de ma vie (I will love you for the rest of my life).
Je reste à Paris pour une semaine (I will stay in Paris for a week).
When in doubt, use pendant, as it generally can be used in all those examples as well.
Je vais t’aimer pendant le reste de ma vie.
Je reste à Paris pendant une semaine.