Pena Ajena – Translation and Meaning in English

DefinitionPena ajena is used to express that someone feels embarrassed by other people’s actions or behavior. Although it doesn’t have a direct translation, ‘pena ajena’ could be translated as ‘feel embarrassed for’ or ‘how embarrassing’. 

What Does ‘Pena Ajena’ Mean?

  • Translation #1: As a single expression, ‘pena ajena’ means ‘how embarrassing’. 
  • Translation #2: When working with the verb ‘dar’, it means ‘feel embarrassed for’. 

How and When to Use ‘Pena Ajena’?

  • To express that something is embarrassing. The expression ‘pena ajena’ can be used to express that something is embarrassing. In this context, ‘pena ajena’ becomes a single expression: ‘¡qué pena ajena!’ which is translated as ‘how embarrassing’. 
  • To express that you feel embarrassed or ashamed for someone’s actions. This phrase is also used to express that the speaker is embarrassed or ashamed by other people’s actions or behaviors. In this context, ‘pena ajena’ needs to work with the verb ‘dar’. It can be translated as ‘feel embarrassed for’. 

Examples of How to Use ‘Pena Ajena’

The following examples will help you understand how to apply ‘pena ajena’ in real-life situations.

Qué pena ajena

‘¡Qué pena ajena’ is an expression that Spanish speakers use to describe that they feel ashamed by something external to them. As a result, this phrase would be translated as ‘how embarrassing’.

Tú: ¿Supiste que Alan se cayó en la cafetería?You: Did you know that Alan fell in the cafeteria? 
Tu amigo: Sí, enfrente de todos. ¡Qué pena ajena! Your friend: Yes, in front of everybody. How embarrassing! 

If the context is not clear for the person you’re talking to, you will need to add some additional information to ‘qué pena ajena’. 

Qué pena ajena + que + [information] 

Qué pena ajena que María Luisa haya reprobado español
How embarrassing that María Luisa failed Spanish 

¡Qué feo baila Nadia! ¡Qué pena ajena!
How ugly Nadia dances! How embarrassing

Take Note: Depending on the context, on top of expressing embarrassment for others ‘pena ajena’ could also express a little bit of pity. In order words, the actions made by that person are so embarrassing that you feel both shame and pity. 

Dar pena ajena 

‘Pena ajena’ can also be used as a synonym for ‘feel embarrassed for’ or ‘feel embarrassed that’. Unlike ‘qué pena ajena’, this expression doesn’t focus on an action, it expresses your embarrassment for someone. 

[Indirect pronoun] + [dar conjugated] + pena ajena + que + [information]

Me da pena ajena que mi hermana baile tan mal
I feel embarrassed that my sister danced so badly

Creo que le di pena ajena a la señorita y por eso me ayudó
I think that lady feels sorry for me and that’s why she helped me

Take Note: Dar pena ajena is a synonym of ‘feel embarrassed for’ when you’re only referring to the person. However, if you’re emphasizing the action or behavior of that person, it would be translated as ‘feel embarrassed that’. Additionally, you can conjugate ‘dar’ to match any tense. 

Who Can You Use ‘Pena Ajena’ With?

In all Spanish countries, ‘pena ajena’ is a very popular expression. However, it’s more commonly used in informal contexts since sometimes it can be perceived as a little bit aggressive. Also, in some Spanish speaking countries, you may find the variation vergüenza ajena. 

Other Ways to Say ‘Pena Ajena’

Here are some synonyms that you can use to replace ‘pena ajena’. 

  • ¡Qué oso! This Mexican slang expression is translated as ‘how embarrassing’. As a result, you can use it as a synonym for ‘qué pena ajena’. However, ‘qué oso’ is slightly more cheerful and it never implies pity.
  • Vergüenza ajena  →  This is a variation of ‘pena ajena’. It’s popular in Spain, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Argentina. 
  • ¡Qué pena! It could mean ‘how embarrassing’. Unlike ‘qué pena ajena’, qué pena is more empathetic. In some contexts, it could be translated as ‘what a pity’. 

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I've been studying Spanish professionally as well as teaching it in Mexico and online for over 10 years. I’ve taught Spanish to a wide array of foreigners from many backgrounds. Over the years, I've made it my mission to work hard on refining many challenging to understand grammar topics to make my students' learning experiences easier, faster and more enjoyable. Read More About Me

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