I have been thinking of how to translate this:

"That was twenty years ago"
I think there are several ways to express this in German

Das ist (schon) 20 Jahre her
Das war 20 Jahre her
Das war vor 20 Jahren

I'm unsure about the possible subtle differences in meaning between the expressions. Are they all valid? I also find it interesting that I cannot really decide if to use the imperfect or the present tense when using the two first expressions

  • Replace daher by her and all variants should be fine. There is no subtle hidden difference, simply different tenses and 2nd one is quite ununsual.
    – guidot
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 19:02
  • Thanks. I have changed the Q according to your suggestion.
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


All three are correct, but the meaning of the second sentence differs from that of the other two.

Das war vor 20 Jahren.


That was (that happened) twenty years ago.

The point of reference in the first sentence is a bit difference, hence the different tense.

Das ist 20 Jahre her.

is more like

20 years have passed since then.


Das war 20 Jahre her.

would mean

20 years had passed since then.

So we are talking about two points in time in the past, which are 20 years apart from each other.

  • 1
    Agree with above, though I feel (is it just me?) a subtle difference between the first and third sentence. To me, "Das ist 20 Jahre her" emphasizes more the long time span that has passed, while "Das war vor 20 Jahren" seems a bit more neutral to me, basically just informing when something happened (though with a certain intonation it could just as well put the stress on the time span. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 0:07
  • @user1583209, I agree and I should have made that clearer.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 0:18
  • Thanks. This means you cannot say "Das war 20 Jahre her" today about an event that happened 20 years ago? E.g: "A: Wann arbeiteste du in der Bäckerei? - B: Das war 20 Jahre her." Here only the present tense would be correct?
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 7:22
  • 1
    @Beta, the correct past form of arbeiten is "du arbeitetest", but it is anyway much more natural to ask: "Wann hast du in der Bäckerei gearbeitet?". And yes, as an answer only the forms with present tense are correct.
    – Iris
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 9:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.