Imagine you’re in a Spanish-speaking country.
You’ve lost your travel companion and you’re checking out local establishments to see if he’s there. You attempt to ask the shop owners and various locals if they’ve seen him.
You’re desperate to find him, but how successful would you be at describing him? Would this just be an awkward game of Charades?
Besides internalizing Spanish verb conjugations and Spanish adverbs, one of the most basic lessons that comes up when studying the Spanish language revolves around how to describe someone in Spanish. This includes physical descriptors, words to describe emotion, vocabulary for body parts and even the clothing they wear.
Learning how to describe someone in Spanish covers a wide range of terms, but it’s a fundamental lesson for navigating more complicated discussions. The implications of being able to have a multifaceted conversation in Spanish about a person may mean the difference between finding them now or reconnecting much later in the night.
Crazy hypothetical situations aside, there are many times when knowing the ins and outs of describing someone in Spanish will come in handy.
We’ll take you through the entire process, starting with knowing the right verb to start with!
Describing People in Spanish in 5 Easy Steps
1. Decide Whether to Use Ser or Estar
It’s easy to get confused when trying to determine when to use the verbs ser or estar to describe someone. Both mean “to be,” but each refers to different states of being.
Use estar when:
- Talking about temporary states (like emotions)
- Talking about where something physically is
Use ser when:
- Describing traits of people or things
- Describing where someone is from (origin)
- Talking about relationships between people
- Describing a person’s occupation
- Talking about the time
Now that you know when to use ser and estar, we’re going to show you lots of examples in the sections that follow.
2. Learn Basic Spanish Physical Descriptors
One of the easiest ways to describe someone is by their physical attributes.
Though being too honest might not make you any friends, you can use height and weight as the most basic method of describing someone in Spanish. For example, if you’re referring to a short and fat girl, you might say, “La chica es baja y gorda.” A tall and skinny boy? “El chico es alto y flaco.”
Here are the basic words you’ll need to know:
- Tall — alto/alta
- Short — bajo/baja
- Skinny — flaco/flaca
- Thin — delgado/delgada
- Fat — gordo/gorda
Besides height and weight, you could also refer to a person’s physical description in terms of their:
- Physical appearance, like if they have something that sets them apart from others. You might refer to a person as having a dimple (un hoyuelo) or mole (un lunar).
- Attitude: nice (amable), quiet (tranquilo/tranquila), cheerful (alegre)
- Abilities and features: intelligent (inteligente), pretty (bonita), brave (valiente)
When it comes to colors, it’s important to know not only the basic words for ROYGBIV (the first letter of each of the colors of the rainbow) but also colors as they help to describe a person’s hair color:
- Blonde — rubio
- Brown — moreno
- Red — pelirrojo
Of course, a person’s hair type will also set them apart from others:
- Curly — rizado
- Straight — lacio
- Wavy — ondulado
- Long hair — pelo largo
- Short hair — pelo corto
No hair? Él es calvo (He is bald) will get the point across!
Eye colors tend to be the same as their ROYGBIV counterparts, but there are some distinct colors to learn:
For a further study on the topic, here are some common descriptors you might find useful.
3. Factor in Emotion in Your Description
Besides physical descriptors, you might opt to describe someone based on their emotions.
Say you want to describe a man who’s depressed.
Using present tense, you’d say, “Él está deprimido.” (“He is depressed.”)
Using past tense, you’d say, “Él estaba deprimido.” (“He was depressed.”)
Using future tense, you’d say, “Él estará deprimido.” (“He will be depressed.”)
Consider the following terms for how to describe someone in Spanish based on their emotions, listed alphabetically for easy reference:
- Angry — enfadado/enfadada
- Anxious — ansioso/ansiosa
- Ashamed — avergonzado/avergonzada
- Bored — aburrido/aburrida
- Busy — ocupado/ocupada
- Comfortable — cómodo/cómoda
- Confused — confundido/confundida
- Delighted — encantado/encantada
- Depressed — deprimido/deprimida
- Desperate — desesperado/desesperada
- Excited — emocionado/emocionada
- Frustrated — frustrado/frustrada
- Frightened — asustado/asustada
- Furious — furioso/furiosa
- Happy — alegre, feliz
- Hurt — dolido/dolida
- In love — enamorado/enamorada
- Insecure — inseguro/insegura
- Impatient — impaciente
- Jealous — celoso/celosa
- Nervous — nervioso/nerviosa
- Overwhelmed — agobiado/agobiada
- Patient — paciente
- Pleased — contento/contenta
- Proud — orgulloso/orgullosa
- Relaxed — relajado/relajada
- Relieved — aliviado/aliviada
- Restless — inquieto/inquieta
- Sad — triste
- Satisfied — satisfecho/satisfecha
- Sensitive — sensible
- Shy — tímido/tímida
- Surprised — sorprendido/sorprendida
- Thankful — agradecido/agradecida
- Tired — cansado/cansada
- Uncomfortable — incómodo/incómoda
- Unhappy — infeliz
- Worried — preocupado/preocupada
4. Get Specific by Knowing the Names of Body Parts
Trying to describe the average Joe in a sea of average Joes might prove to be a little difficult. If you want to get really specific with physical descriptors, you might consider learning Spanish vocabulary related to different body parts. Does your friend have a tattoo on his arm? A cut on his forehead? Knowing the words to convey that will significantly increase your chances of finding him!
Alternatively, knowing body parts also helps if you’re trying to convey that you’re feeling a lot of pain! So if you haven’t invested in a good medical Spanish phrasebook, you need to know this terminology!
For example, say you need to tell a doctor or pharmacist that your head hurts. You would have to know the word for “head” and be able to say, “Me duele la cabeza.” (You might be tempted to say “Me duele mi cabeza”, but doler is one of those tricky Spanish verbs and this doesn’t translate properly in Spanish. Condition yourself to resist this temptation.)
If the doctor then asks, “¿Te duele la cara?” (“Does your face hurt?”), then he’s probably a dad, as this lame joke unfortunately transcends languages.
On a lighter note, you can also use these words for describing someone in Spanish when you’re flirting, or maybe just being nice. For instance, if you wanted to tell someone you like their eyes, you’d say, “Me gustan tus ojos.”
You never know when being able to say the following terms for body parts might come in handy:
- Head — cabeza
- Hair — pelo
- Face — cara
- Eye — ojo
- Cheek— mejilla
- Nose — nariz
- Mouth — boca
- Lips — labios
- Stomach — estómago
- Arm — brazo
- Hand — mano
- Finger — dedo
- Nail — uña
- Leg — pierna
- Foot — pie
5. Translate Clothing Items to Spanish
The last element to consider when describing someone in Spanish is clothing.
Remember that when you describe an article of clothing by color, it’s subject to masculine/feminine rules (as are the other adjectives in this guide). When using colors as an adjective, you have to make sure that the colors agree with the number and gender of the noun they’re describing.
If you wanted to describe someone you saw on the street by their clothing, you could translate “He was wearing a green jacket” to “Llevaba una chaqueta verde.”
Consider the following terms for describing someone in Spanish by their clothing:
Basic articles of clothing
- Pants — pantalones
- Jeans — vaqueros (which also translates to “cowboy” in Spanish.)
- Shirt — camisa
- T-shirt – camiseta
- Blouse — blusa
- Suit — traje
- Dress — vestido
- Skirt — falda
Cold weather clothes
- Sweater — suéter/jersey
- Jacket — chaqueta
- Coat — abrigo
- Raincoat — impermeable
- Gloves — guantes
- Scarf — bufanda
- Hat (rimmed) — sombrero
- Hat (baseball) — gorra
- Beanie (knit cap) — gorro
Footwear – calzado
- Shoes — zapatos
- Boots — botas
- Socks — calcetines
Accessories – accesorios
- Belt — cinturón
- Jewelry — joyas
- Watch — reloj
Being able to describe someone/something in Spanish can help immensely when it comes to conversation, or even in more pressing situations where identification and clear communication is important in seeking the desired response.
Be sure to make flashcards of these words to prepare for your next trip abroad!
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If this general rule is too vague for you, think of the acronym DOT. Ser is used for:
- Descriptions of a person or thing
- Origins of a person or thing
In this article we'll take a look at the D in DOT: Descriptions. Let's get started!
Descriptions with Ser
Ser is used for all permanent/long-term and personal descriptions. You can use ser to answer the question How would you describe ____?
In other words, ser is used with the essential qualities that define a person or thing and that are not likely to change in the near future. These can be names, physical descriptions, occupations, personal relationships, and religion, among others.
They are Adela and Amalia.
Silviaespelirroja y baja.
Silvia is red-headed and short.
Soyprofesora de español.
My parents are Buddhists.
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While both ser and estar can translate to to be in English, they aren't interchangeable in Spanish.
- Ser is used to classify and identify permanent or lasting attributes.
- Estar is used to indicate temporary states and locations.