How to say "ago" in Spanish

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

This video is from our series “how to say” in Spanish, where we explore the most natural way to say English common expressions, in Spanish.

In this video, we’ll be looking at a few ways of saying “ago” in Spanish:

  • Hace tiempo
  • Tiempo atrás
  • Using preterite or imperfect

Saying “ago” in Spanish

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How do you say “ago” in Spanish? That’s what we’ll be learning in this video. Hey, I’m Rob from Spanish Obsessed, where we teach you real Spanish that you’ll actually hear and use out there in the real world. This video is part of a series, How to Say in Spanish, where we look at common phrases and expressions in English, where the translation isn’t always obvious in Spanish and we explore the best, most natural ways to express them in Spanish. If you find this video useful, be sure to hit like and subscribe so you don’t miss any more. Also, let us know in the comments, what phrase or word would you like us to explore next?


In today’s video, we’re looking at a couple of ways of saying “ago” in Spanish. And this can be difficult for English learners because where we have just one word, Spanish has a few different ways of saying this. Let’s take a phrase in English, “two weeks ago” and look at a couple of ways of saying this. We’ll start with the word hace. Hace, from the verb hacer is used in this way with a period of time and expresses the period that occurred before. So we simply tag on the time period and we get our “ago” meaning.

So to say two weeks ago, it’s hace dos semanas. We can also do this with the word atrás, which literally means “back”. And this is the same in English, we could say “two weeks ago” or “two weeks back”. So that would be dos semanas atrás. Notice that hace goes before the time period and atrás goes after it. Now you try a couple, pause the video and see if you can figure out how to translate the phrases we put up for you using both atrás and hace.

Here are some super common expressions that you’ll often hear with hace. Hace tiempo or hace mucho tiempo means “a long time ago”. On the contrary, you might hear hace poco, which means “a short time ago”. Hace rato, which is something I always used to struggle to say, means “a while ago”. You might also have hace mucho rato, “a long while ago”. Now the question is what tense do we combine this with? Generally speaking, if it’s positive, then we use the preterite, if we’re talking about a specific point in the past. So which of these options do you think means “I started learning Spanish two years ago”?.

And if we’re talking about something that occurred during that time, we’ll use the imperfect. An example could be estudiaba el español hace dos años cuando decidí viajar a Colombia, “I was studying Spanish two years ago when I decided to travel to Colombia”. If we’re talking about something we didn’t do, however, so the negative, we use the present tense. So to take our example of “I started studying Spanish two years ago”, the negative of this would really be “I haven’t studied Spanish for two years”. Spanish speakers would then switch to the present tense for this. So how could you say, “I haven’t seen you for a long time”?

So these are the most common ways of saying “ago” in Spanish. 

7 Responses

  1. Very helpful Rob, thanks!

    Maybe you have already covered this but a session on the many uses of the verbs quedar and quedarse would be muy utíl!

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