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I know it will take estar and in the present tense it’s easy to just say, “Estoy enfermo.” But how do I say it in the past tense? Which one of the below would be correct?

estuve enfermo.

estaba enfermo.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

both are valid sentences

  • estuve enfermo

would be heard as polite excuse, ie. (At the office, explaining to colleagues about your sick leave), Estuve enfermo la semana pasada {I was sick the last week}

  • estaba enfermo

something that you would say to friends, ie (with friends and family), estaba enfermo y ya estoy bien {I was sick, now I'm great}

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Would it be fair to assume that “estuve enfermo” is more like “I fell sick” whereas “estaba enfermo” describes the state of being sick, i.e., “I was sick.”? –  Amit Schandillia Apr 5 at 15:32
1  
yes, it feels better that way, still both describe that in the past there was sickness –  Poncho Apr 5 at 15:37
    
To my mind 'estaba enfermo' also could indicate a long-term illness that, perhaps, you had as a child. Using 'estuve' indicates a short-term temporary sickness such as a cold. –  McArthey Apr 25 at 18:08

Anytime that time is declared in the statement, or question, preterite is to be used. Otherwise, you will use the imperfect.

Examples:

Preterito

Ayer, estuve enfermo

This sentences communicates completely that

You became sick yesterday but you are not sick today...

Ayer, estuve enfermo mientras comía la cena anoche

By adding a complementary action or clause (or whatever the linguistic term is for it) that uses the imperfect you communicate that:

You got sick while eating dinner last night, but you are not sick now

Ayer, estuve enfermo mientras comí la cena anoche

Just for education's sake, if you make both of them preterite, then you communicate

You got sick as soon as you ate dinner last night

You can add me in front of comí and change it to

You got sick as soon as you at all of the dinner last night

Imperfecto

Ayer, estaba enfermo

This sentences communicates that

you were sick yesterday and you may or may not still be sick today

When you use this form, the reader expects more to the sentence. i.e,

you were sick when you were cooking dinner,

you were sick while listening to the speech,

you were sick because you ate bad food.

you were sick, and it was a Thursday, and your uncle Joe had called asking for money again.

And so on, and so on, and so on ...

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Depending on what you want to say, but I would say that estuve enfermo is the correct answer.

Estaba enfermo is Pretérito imperfecto. That means that we don't know if the action has end.

Estaba enfermo cuando llamaron a la puerta.

After knoking the door you still felt sick and we do not know when you felt OK.

Estuve enfermo is Pretérito perfecto simple. We know this action ended in some point in the past.

Ayer estuve enfermo, por eso no fui al cine.

Yesterday you felt sick and you didn't go to the cinema. Now you feel OK.

Conjugación del verbo Estar

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I was sick = estaba enfermo... estuve enfermo... los dos están correctos

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