Describing people and emotions

adjectives for describing people

What is she like? Let me tell you…

One of the best things about languages is that they enable us to express all manner of things which are invisible to the naked eye.

Some of these things are how we feel and what we -or others- are like. Let’s see how we can do this in Spanish using a couple of very important verbs and a collection of common adjectives.

This lesson is part of our Beginner’s Spanish course, which aims to take you to zero to hero in 10 easy-to-follow classes.

We’ve got lessons on all the essential Spanish you might need for basic, everyday conversations, from introducing yourself, to asking for personal information, and overcoming communication problems (without resorting to violence!).

As well as giving us loads of useful adjectives, this class also serves as a great introduction to the Spanish verbs ser and estar, which both correspond to the verb ‘be’ in English.

Emotions and personal characteristics

Emotions

Emotions are transitory. Sometimes they might feel like they are here to stay, but luckily, they come and go, and sooner or later they will pass. So whenever we express emotions in Spanish, we use the verb estar.

  • ¿Cómo estás? – How are you?
  • Bien, ¿y tú? – I’m fine, and you?

This guy is confused:

So is this one:

If you’re happy, I’m happy:

Who did you say you were?

When we want to know about somebody’s personality or what they look like, we use the verb ser.

  • ¿Cómo eres?
    What are you like? / What do you look like?
  • ¿Cómo es Carlos?
    What is Carlos like? / What does Carlos look like?

Depending on the situation, you’ll know whether your answer should focus on personality, appearance, or both.

So, if the question is:

  • ¿Cómo eres, Lisa?
    What are you like, Lisa

Here are some possible answers:

  • Soy baja y rubia.
  • Soy inteligente, curiosa y aplicada.

Translation:

  • I’m short and blond.
  • I’m intelligent, curious and studious.

If you are asked about someone else:

  • ¿Cómo es tu padre, Lisa?
    What’s your father like, Lisa?

We might answer:

  • Es alto, calvo y un poco gordo.
    He’s tall, bald and a bit overweight.
  • No es muy inteligente pero es muy cariñoso.
    He’s not very smart, but he’s very affectionate.

Notice that when talking about a girl or a woman, adjectives (underlined in the text) are in the feminine form. In other words, they finish in –a. However, when talking about a man, we use the masculine form and so they finish in –o. The exception to this is inteligente. Adjectives that finish in –e never change and are used in the same way for both men and women.

  • Lisa es inteligente. Homero no es inteligente.
    Lisa is intelligent. Homer is not intelligent.

Now let’s have a look at how Lisa feels in different situations.

  • ¿Cómo estás, Lisa?    –     How are you, Lisa?
  • ¡Estoy enfadada!       –     I’m angry!

Situation 2

  • ¿Cómo estás, Lisa?    –     How are you, Lisa?
  • Estoy aburrida.         –      I’m bored.

And the third:

  • ¿Cómo estás?            –        How are you?
  • Estoy preocupada.    –       I’m worried.

¿Ser o estar? To be or to be?

Both ser and estar are translated as “to be”. But in Spanish they refer to two different things. Ser is used to describe the characteristics that define or make a person, an object or a place. As if you were describing its essential core.

  • ¿Cómo eres?
    What are you like?
  • Soy generoso.
    I’m generous.

Second example:

  • ¿Cómo es la película?
    What’s the film like?
  • Es graciosa.
    It’s funny.        

And a third:

  • ¿Cómo es París?
    What’s Paris like?
  • Es cara.
    It’s expensive.

Estar gives an idea of something much less essential. That’s why we use it to talk about feelings and emotions. These do not define you, they are not part of who you are. However, be aware that languages are not rigid and some phrases always go with either one verb or the other. For example:

  • El árbol está muerto, no está vivo.
    The tree is dead. It’s not alive.

Sometimes the meaning changes if you use one or the other.

For example,

Bart está aburrido: This describes how Bart feels. Bart is bored.

 La clase es aburrida: This describes the class itself. The class is boring.

¿Soy o estoy?

As a rule of thumb, if you want to describe what a person is like, use the verb ser. When describing how you or others feel at the moment, use estar.  So now, after this lesson, ¿cómo estás?

Looking for more free Spanish lessons?

As well as this beginner’s Spanish course, we also have a whole unit of classes for people who just want to learn essential Spanish phrases. And for those who are curious as to how native-speakers actually communicate in real life, we have our video series, Real Spanish.