In impersonal expressions, like in the sentence "It's a pity that you were sick," would it be better to translate the sentence as Fue una lástima que estuvieras enfermo or as Era una lástima que estuvieras enfermo?

Or would native speakers use a different stucture altogether to convey the same idea?

I'm currently leaning toward era, since the idea of being sick is more or less a duration, but I'm not sure.

Thank you!

  • @walen The subordinate clause is in the past, so the tense in the main clause has to match. In English, the tenses don't have to match, but in Spanish they do.
    – Froggos
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 19:47
  • 2
    Actually, Es una lástima que estuvieras enfermo sounds perfectly fine to me.
    – pablodf76
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 21:30
  • @pablodf76 That's cool! I didn't know that. I just read that rule in a grammar book. Which one would you prefer using then, es or era in that context?
    – Froggos
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 23:25
  • 1
    The meaning is the same. Maybe some people prefer one over the other. I'd say Es una lástima but only because it rolls easier off the tongue (in practice you say something that sounds like sunalástima).
    – pablodf76
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 1:19

1 Answer 1


I'd be inclined to use the perfect, not the imperfect tense in this specific case:

  • Fue una lástima que estuvieras enfermo.

because, although the state of his/her being ill is durative, "fue" refers to the speaker's impression, and that will tend to be expressed by means of a tense describing the speaker's feeling at a certain moment rather than during a period.

Imagine the situation that you invited your friend to a party, and he/she couldn't come because of an illness. The sentence: Fue una lástima que estuvieras enfermo would express that it was a pity he/she couldn't come to the party (it was a pity he/she was sick at the time when the party was held).

  • Quick question: are there any situations were you would use era in those kinds of impersonal expressions, or do we exclusively use fue?
    – Froggos
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 17:40
  • 1
    The only cases that come to mind right now are when the impression extends over time, or when what follows points to the future, as in: Era una lástima que, siendo tan linda, fuera tan tonta (it was a pity that, being so pretty, she was so dumb): extended feeling / Era improbable que ganara (it was unlikely that he would win): future
    – Gustavson
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 17:48

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