How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish

By Eric W. Vogt

Time and distance are not always expressed in Spanish the same way they are in English. Learn how to ask and answer such questions as "How far is it to... ?" and "How long does it take to go from ... to...?"

"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, desde -- from and a, hasta -- to).

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.