If you need to describe the ‘time it takes’ to do something, then you’ll need the Spanish verb tardar.
You can also use this useful Spanish verb to talk about delays, or set deadlines using a common Spanish phrase.
Tardar also falls into the list of the top 1000 most useful Spanish words for conversational Spanish, listed in the conversation hacking guide. This means you will more than likely need this verb in your next Spanish conversation.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use the Spanish verb tardar for talking about the time it takes to do something, how to minimise delays, how to set deadlines, and you’ll also learn how to think about the grammar of this useful Spanish verb.
Tardar – An intransitive verb
Before we look at the uses of tardar, we need to talk about how it behaves.
Firstly, tardar is intransitive, this means we don’t need an object in a sentence with this verb.
To help understand this idea, you can compare tardar to the English verb ‘to wait’.
In English, as a response to a question like “what were you doing?”, you could say:
I was waiting.
In this sentence ‘waiting’ doesn’t have an object, there is just the subject ‘I’ and the verb. You could also say:
I was waiting at the bus station.
We were waiting in the car.
They were waiting for 4 hours.
In each of these sentences there isn’t an object, simply a further description of how or where the ‘waiting’ was happening.
In other words, you can’t ‘wait something‘, you have to ‘wait at’, ‘wait in’, ‘wait for’ etc.
Tardar behaves in almost exactly the same way, except its meaning is closer to the English verb ‘to delay’ or the construction ‘to take (time)’.
Tardar vs tardarse
In addition, you can use tardar as a normal verb, or you can use tardarse in a Spanish passive construction using the pronoun se.
Here is an example with tardar:
English: It took me two hours to get there on foot (I took…).
Español: Tardé dos horas en llegar a pie.
Note in English, we have a strange construction “it took me”, which is similar to Spanish verbs like gustar where the subject of the sentence is ‘it’.
In contrast, as a passive construction, tardarse flips the noun in the sentence from the person or thing that performs the action of the verb to the person or thing that experiences the action of the verb.
This idea is extremely difficult to express in English with the construction ‘to take time’. That’s why I chose the verb ‘to wait’ in the previous section, it is easier to use in a passive construction, and it behaves a lot like tardar.
I was waiting for the train. (active)
The train was being waited for. (passive)
This second sentence is similar to sentences with tardarse in Spanish.
Here is an example:
English: The train took two hours to get to Murcia.
Español: El tren se tardó dos horas en llegar a Murcia.
In this example, it is the 2-hour delay that is the most important part of this sentence, and so we use tardarse instead of tardar.
Moreover, we can easily remove ‘el tren‘ from this example:
English: It took two hours to get to Murcia.
Español: Se tardó dos horas en llegar a Murcia.
Note that we couldn’t remove ‘el tren‘ from the sentence if we were using the normal form of the verb tardar.
Here are a few example questions that further demonstrate the difference between tardar and tardarse.
English: How long did it take to get here? (passive)
Español: ¿Cuánto tiempo se tardó en llegar?
English: How long did it take you to get here? (active)
Español: ¿Cuánto tiempo tardaste en llegar?
Note the difference between “did it take” and “did it take you”.
Use 1. To take time
The first use of tardar (or tardarse) is equivalent to the English construction ‘to take time’.
You can use mucho in combination with tardar to say ‘to take a while’ or ‘to take a long time’.
English: You took a long time. What happened?
Español: Has tardado mucho. ¿Qué ha pasado?
Also, if you want to say ‘it took a while to… (finish, answer, fix, etc.)’ then you’ll need to combine tardar with the Spanish preposition en.
English: He took over an hour to decide which pants he wanted.
Español: Tardó más de una hora en decidir qué pantalones quería.
As you can see from this example ‘it took time to decide’ which is ‘tardar (tiempo) en decidir‘.
English: It only took 5 days to organise the conference this time.
Español: Esta vez sólo se tardó 5 días en organizar la conferencia.
Note the passive construction in this last example with tardarse. Who was organising the conference? It doesn’t matter! The fact that it took 5 days is the key to this sentence, so we use tardarse.
Use 2. To delay
In addition to tardar, there are other verbs in Spanish that are equivalent to the English verb ‘to delay’ such as retrasar and demorar.
In comparison to these other verbs, tardar works really well in the negative context of ‘not delaying’ or ‘without further delay’.
English: We must not delay in solving this problem.
Español: No debemos tardar en resolver este problema.
English: I can’t delay in answering their request.
Español: No puedo tardar en responder su petición.
English: We have to make these changes without any further delay.
Español: Tenemos que realizar estos cambios sin más tardar.
Use 3. At the latest – A más tardar
The last use of tardar is for setting deadlines in Spanish by using the translation of the English phrase ‘at the latest’, which is ‘a más tardar‘.
English: We have to finish the project by Friday at the latest
Español: Tenemos que terminar el proyecto el viernes a más tardar.
Also, note there is no preposition with the phrase ‘by Friday’ in Spanish. You simply say ‘el viernes‘ (the Friday).
English: The meeting will start in ten minutes at the latest.
Español: La reunión empieza a más tardar en diez minutos.
English: The car must be returned no later than 24 hours after leaving the car park.
Español: El coche se debe devolver a más tardar 24 horas después de salir del aparcamiento.
Tardar is a really useful verb in the context of talking about a quantity of time or adding emphasis to ideas around delays and deadlines.
If there is something new to you in this article or something you would like to get to know better, try to use it a few times this week.
Test out the phrase ‘a más tardar‘, or ‘tardar‘ with the preposition ‘en‘, or even see if you can work a passive sentence with tardarse into your next Spanish conversation.
How else can you use the Spanish verb tardar?