Depending on the context, the word time could be translated either as tiempo or vez. However, these words aren’t synonyms. In fact, they have different meanings and, therefore, they’re applied in different contexts. When Spanish learners realize this, they start to wonder what’s the difference between ‘tiempo’ and ‘vez’ and when do they need to use them.
‘Tiempo’ can mean ‘time’, ‘half’, ‘how long’, ‘long’ or ‘weather’. It’s used to talk about climatic conditions, the duration of an action and past periods of time. ‘Vez’ means ‘time’ and it refers to the number of times that an action has been performed. It asks and talks about past experiences.
Using these terms in Spanish can be challenging since they share the same English translation. As a result, the sections below will explain the rules you can follow to use these words. Additionally, we’ll show you some examples as well as the most common context where you apply ‘tiempo’ and ‘vez’.
- Differences between ‘tiempo’ and ‘vez’
- When to use ‘Tiempo’
- When to use ‘Vez’
What’s the difference between ‘tiempo’ and ‘vez’ in Spanish?
Confusing ‘tiempo’ and ‘vez’ is one of the most common mistakes that most (if not all) Spanish learners make. Although both words are the equivalent of ‘time’ in English, in Spanish, we use them for different purposes.
|Classification||– Masculine noun|
– Plural form applicable in several contexts
|– Feminine noun|
– It has a plural form
– ‘How long’
– ‘Long time’
|When to use||– Describe climatic conditions and the weather|
– Sports context
– Talk about ‘time’ (as a concept)
– Talk about eras or periods of time
|– Express repetition|
– Ask and talk about past experiences
– Talk about experiences
We use tiempo when describing weather conditions, the concept of time and the duration of an action. It’s also applied when referring to past periods of times such as eras. Finally, it’s also used in the context of sports, to talk about the different sections of a match or to measure an athlete’s time.
Vez is used to express the number of times someone performed an action. As a result, it has a plural form. This word is also used to talk about specific moments or occasions in someone’s life. Additionally, ‘vez’ asks about people’s experiences and it’s used in expressions built with ‘once’.
¡Ya va a empezar el segundo tiempo!
The second half is about to start!
Esta es la segunda vez que vengo a España
This is the second time that I’ve come to Spain
Now, let’s see specific examples as well as sentence structures that you need to use for each word.
Related: Common Spanish Mistakes
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When to Use Tiempo in Spanish
Since ‘tiempo’ seems closer to the English word ‘time’, many Spanish learners tend to use this word when they need to translate a sentence containing the word ‘time’. However, ‘tiempo’ is only used in some specific situations. Before showing you some examples, in this table, we gather some common words and expressions that you can use with ‘tiempo’.
|Hace mal||Bad (weather)|
|Hace mucho||It’s been|
|Hace buen||Good (weather)|
|En aquel / En ese||In that|
|En aquellos||In those|
Below, we’ll show you some examples and meanings of ‘tiempo’ in Spanish.
How is the weather today? – Talking about climatic conditions
In Spanish, the word ‘tiempo’ is used to talk about the weather as long as we’re talking about the weather conditions of a specific day. Therefore, in this case, ‘tiempo’ can be translated as ‘weather’. This is the phrase structure that we use for this case:
[Hacer conjugated] + [adjective] + tiempo
No me gusta salir cuando hace mal tiempo
I don’t like to go out, when the weather is bad
Mañana hará buen tiempo, ¿quieres ir a la playa?
Tomorrow, the weather will be good, do you want to go to the beach?
Such a long time! – Describing the duration of an action
Every time you want to describe the length of time that has passed since you performed an action, you need to use the word ‘tiempo’. In this context, ‘tiempo’ usually works with the following adjectives and it can be translated as ‘long’ or ‘long time’:
No llevo mucho tiempo estudiando español
I haven’t studied Spanish for long
Ha pasado mucho tiempo desde que nos vimos, ¿cómo has estado?
It’s been a long time since we saw each other, how have you been?
You could also use ‘tiempo’ to ask about the duration of an action:
¿Hace + cuánto + tiempo + que + [verb conjugated in present]
¿Hace cuánto tiempo que se conocen?
How long have you known each other?
Lisa, ¿hace cuánto tiempo que estudias español?
Lisa, how long have you studied Spanish?
Take Note: In order to make this sentence shorter, it’s possible to remove ‘tiempo que’ from the sentence. This won’t affect the meaning of your statement:
¿Hace cuánto se conocen?
How long have you known each other?
It’s half time! – Talking about the sections or divisions on a match
Another common context where you can use the word ‘tiempo’ is when talking about sports. In this case, ‘tiempo’ is used to measure an athlete’s time or to talk about the parts or sections of a match. Here are some examples:
Es medio tiempo, vamos por unas papas
It’s half-time, let’s go for some chips
El segundo tiempo estuvo muy aburrido
The second half was so boring
¿Me tomaste el tiempo en esta vuelta?
Did you take my time on this lap?
No me había dado cuenta que ya empezó el partido, ¿en qué tiempo van?
I didn’t notice that the game has already started, what time is this?
In that time… – Talking about eras or periods of time
In Spanish, we use ‘tiempo’ everytime we’re talking about the past. This can be used to refer to past periods of time or eras. In this context, ‘tiempo’ is the direct translation of ‘time’.
En el tiempo de los aztecas había muchas pirámides
In the Aztecs’ time there were a lot of pyramids
¿En qué período de tiempo te gustaría vivir?
In what period of time would you like to live?
On top of being useful when talking about History, you can also use this word when talking about your personal stories.
Cuando era niño no tenía muchos juguetes, en aquel tiempo jugábamos con cualquier cosaz
When I was a little boy I didn’t have a lot of toys, at that time we played with anything
Take Note: In this context, where you’re talking about a past period of time, tiempo can be used in its plural form.
En aquellos tiempos no había electricidad
In those times there was no electricity
Related: When to Use Imperfect in Spanish
Tiempo as Concept of ‘Time’
When referring to the concept of time we need to use the word ‘tiempo’. However, we don’t use it when asking or telling the time (hours).
Necesito más tiempo para terminar I need more time to finish
¡Qué lento pasa el tiempo! How slow the time passes!
When to Use Vez in Spanish
Although it doesn’t focus on the concept of time, ‘vez’ is always translated as ‘time’. Unlike ‘tiempo’, ‘vez’ needs to work with different adjectives, expressions and questioning words in order to make sense. Here is a table with common words that you can use with ‘vez’.
|¿Alguna…has/han?||Have you ever….?|
|Muchas||Many / A lot|
|Aquella / Esa||That|
|Había una / Érase una||Once upon|
Related: Spanish Expressions with Vez
Number of times and occurrences
Unlike ‘tiempo’, vez is used to talk about the number of times that an event or action occurred. Here are some examples and the phrase structures that you need to use:
[Present perfect] + [number] + vez / veces
He visitado Barcelona tres veces
I have visited Barcelona three times
Paulina ha visto esa película una vez
Paulina has seen that movie once
If you don’t know the specific number of times that an event occurred, instead of numbers, you can use a countable adjective.
[Present perfect] + [adjective] + vez / veces
He visitado Barcelona muchas veces
I have visited Barcelona many times
Hemos ido a ese restaurante pocas veces
We have gone to that restaurant a few times
Take Note: ‘Vez’ is a feminine word, as a result, the adjectives or question words that go with it also need to be feminine.
Once Upon a Time…
In Spanish, ‘vez’ is also used as a synonym of ‘once upon time’ which can be translated as:
- Había una vez
- Érase una vez
Érase una vez una hermosa princesa…
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess…
Había una vez una niña llamada Caperucita Roja…
Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Little Red Riding Hood…
These expressions with ‘vez’ are only used when telling tales or fantasy histories. As a result, you can’t use them to talk about your personal anecdotes or historical facts. In these cases, you will need to use ‘aquella vez’ or ‘esa vez’:
Aquella vez mi abuelo se enojó mucho con mi mamá
That time my grandpa was very upset with my mom
Related: Spanish Expressions with Vez
Talking about experiences
‘Vez’ can also be used to talk about a specific moment or occasion in someone’s life. Here is a common phrase structure that you can use for this case.
La + [adjective] + vez + que + [verb conjugated in past]
La primera vez que fui a España estaba lloviendo
The first time that I went to Spain it was raining
Mamá, la última vez que vi mi celular estaba en la mesa, ¿lo moviste?
Mom, the last time that I saw my phone was on the table, did you move it?
You can also use ‘vez’ to ask people when was the last or first time something (an event or action) happened:
¿Te acuerdas cuándo fue la última vez que comimos tacos?
Do you remember when was the last time that we had tacos?
¿Cuándo fue la primera vez que viajaste sola a España?
When was the first time that you traveled alone to Spain?
On top of talking about memories, you can use ‘vez’ to talk about your experiences in any moment of your life, you just need to make some adjustments to your statements.
Esta es mi primera vez en México
This is my first time in Mexico
Have you ever…?
In Spanish, we use ‘vez’ to ask people about their past experiences.
¿Alguna vez has probado el tequila? Have you ever tried tequila?
¿Alguna vez han comido grillos? Have you guys ever eaten crickets?
‘Tiempo’ and ‘vez’ can be very confusing in Spanish since both words can be translated as ‘time’. That’s why in this article we discussed the differences between these words as well as the context where we can use them. If you’re struggling to understand when to use ‘tiempo’ or ‘vez’, here is some quick guidance.
- Refers to the amount or number of times an action or event occurred. It’s translated as ‘time’.
- Has a plural form.
- Asks about people’s past experiences. It means ‘have you ever…?’.
- Talks about a specific moment or occasion in the past (memories).
- It builds expressions such as ‘once upon a time’.
- Talks about climatic conditions. It means ‘time’.
- Express and ask the duration or length of an action. It’s translated as ‘how long’, ‘time’, ‘long time’
- In the context of sports, it’s used to talk about the different parts of a game or match. It means ‘half’.
- Talks about eras or past periods of time. It can be translated ‘in the time of…’
- Talks about the concept of ‘time’ but it’s not used to ask or tell the time.