I was wondering why we describe emotions in the past tense using the imperfect tense, because if you were saying "I was sad", I would think to translate it to "Yo fui triste", but it would actually be "Yo estaba triste", I was being sad. Why is this?

Me preguntaba por qué describimos las emociones en tiempo pasado usando el tiempo imperfecto, porque si dices "I was sad", pensarías traducirlo a "Yo fui triste", pero en realidad debería ser "Yo estaba triste". ¿Por qué es esto?

  • 3
    This is actually a question about the difference between the imperfect and the preterit. If the answers to that question are enough to solve your doubts, just say so.
    – pablodf76
    Mar 22, 2019 at 16:01
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    Follow Pablos's suggestion and think that it also depends on what you mean. i.e if you want to say "I was a sad person" you use "yo fui una persona triste" and it depends if you are using ser or estar for a permanent or temporary state also.
    – DGaleano
    Mar 22, 2019 at 16:20
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    I think this is mostly a question regarding the differences between ser or estar. "Yo estaba triste" (imperfecto) is equally valid as "Yo estuve triste" (indefinido). Yo fui triste is wrong only because it is using the wrong verb.
    – Krauss
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:53

2 Answers 2


Está en el artículo abajo pero no puedo copiarlo por completo. Pero se puede leer al abrir el PDF y es muy interesante:


Mira el primero punto bajo:

Los valores del imperfecto:

Aspecto imperfectivo: "expresa acciones, procesos o estados del pasado en una visión inacabada: Al mediodía, llovía".

  • Yo estaba triste. Es un estado de ánimo en el pasado, y por lo tanto inacabado.

artículo citado arriba


Because generally speaking, the feeling lasted for some time.

In contrast, "Sentí rabia" -- loosely, "I felt a flash of anger" -- shows the rarer example where the feeling was experienced in a flash, and so we use the other past tense ("Sentí rabia").

But if you felt sad yesterday, that covers a fuzzy period. It might be for several hours or it could be the whole day. Either way, you need the tense I personally call the descriptive past.

Note that if you wanted to put "I felt sad" in the simple past (pretérite), then you'd want either "Me sentí triste," or "Estuve triste." One doesn't combine a form of the verb ser with "triste." (I'm not sure there's a reason for this other than what's customary.)

However, the natural way to say this is "Estaba triste" or "Me sentía triste."

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