Describing people in Spanish using 'tener' and 'ser'

Describing physical appearance

It is useful to be able to describe what you or someone else looks like physically.

To find out from someone what they look like, ask ¿Cómo eres? (What do you look like?)

To reply, use the relevant part of the verb ser (to be).

You can see the verb ser in the table below.

SpanishEnglish
soyI am
eresyou are (s)
eshe/she/it is
somoswe are
soisyou are (pl)
sonthey are

A verb is a doing word or an action, for example ‘play’, ‘run’, ‘read’.

Apart from the verb ser (to be), you need adjectives to describe what somebody looks like.

For example:

  • ¿Cómo eres? - What do you look like?

  • Soy alto - I am tall.

Notice that alto ends in o.

Since -o is usually the masculine ending for adjectives in Spanish, this tells us that the person answering the question is male.

An adjective is a word that describes people, places or things.

Make sure you use es to describe somebody else.

For example:

  • ¿Cómo es tu madre? - What is your mum like?

  • Es baja - She is short.

Can you use the language in this table to describe yourself and other family members?

SpanishEnglish
¿Cómo eres?What do you look like?
Soy…I am…
¿Cómo es tu hermana?What does your sister look like?
Es…He/She is…
alto/atall
bajo/ashort

Adjectives always need to agree with the person being described.

Describing hair

To ask someone what their hair is like ask ¿Cómo es tu pelo?

Use the verb tener (to have) to reply.

You can see the verb tener in the table below.

SpanishEnglish
tengoI have
tienesyou have (s)
tienehe/she/it has
tenemoswe have
tenéisyou have (pl)
tienenthey have

Use tengo to describe your own hair.

For example:

  • ¿Cómo es tu pelo? - What is your hair like?

  • Tengo el pelo largo y rubio - I have long, blonde hair.

Use tiene to describe someone else’s hair.

For example:

  • Tu hermana, ¿cómo tiene el pelo? - What is your sister's hair like?

  • Tiene el pelo corto, liso y negro - She has short, straight, black hair.

The word for hair (el pelo) is masculine and singular, so the adjectives to describe hair must agree with the word pelo by also being masculine and singular and not with the person you are describing.

Look at the language in this table and use it to help you describe your own hair in detail, or someone else’s hair.

SpanishEnglish
¿Cómo tienes el pelo?What is your hair like?
Tengo el pelo...I have … hair
¿Cómo tiene el pelo?What is his/her hair like?
Tiene el pelo…He/She has … hair
cortoshort
largolong
rizadocurly
onduladowavy
lisostraight
negroblack
rubioblonde
castañobrown
grisgrey
pelirrojo red

Describing eyes

To ask someone what their eyes are like you can say:

  • ¿Cómo son tus ojos? - What are your eyes like?

For example:

  • ¿Cómo son tus ojos? - What are your eyes like?
  • Tengo los ojos azules - I have blue eyes.

Use tiene to describe someone else’s eyes.

For example:

  • Tu hermano, ¿cómo tiene los ojos? - What are your brother’s eyes like?

  • Tiene los ojos verdes - He has green eyes.

The word for eyes (los ojos) is masculine and plural, so the adjectives to describe eyes must also be masculine and plural.

Notice that there are the two different words for brown:

  • marrón

  • castaño

Use marrones when talking about eye colour and castaño when talking about hair colour.

For example:

  • Mi hermana tiene los ojos marrones - My sister has brown eyes.

  • Tengo el pelo castaño - I have brown hair.

Talking about other features

To describe other physical features, like being bald, having freckles or wearing glasses you can use the verbs ser (to be), tener (to have) and llevar (to wear).

This is the verb llevar:

SpanishEnglish
llevoI wear
llevasyou wear(s)
llevahe/she/it wears
llevamoswe wear
lleváisyou wear (pl)
llevanthey wear

For example:

  • ¿Llevas gafas? - Do you wear glasses?

  • No, no llevo gafas - No, I don't wear glasses.

  • Mi madre lleva gafas y un hiyab - My mother wears glasses and a hijab.

  • Mi abuelo lleva barba y bigote - My grandfather has a beard and a moustache.

  • Mi padre es calvo - My father is bald.

  • Tengo pecas - I have freckles.

Use the table below to create a detailed description of yourself and someone else that you know.

SpanishEnglish
llevo gafasI wear glasses
llevo barbaI have a beard
llevo bigoteI have a moustache
soy calvoI am bald
llevo un hiyabI wear a hijab
tengo pecasI have freckles
lleva gafashe/she wears glasses
lleva barbahe has a beard
lleva bigotehe has a moustache
lleva un hiyabshe wears a hijab
es calvohe is bald
tiene pecas he/she has freckles
A photo of a man with a beard

Mi hermano lleva barba - my brother has a beard

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Listen to these two people describe what they look like.

Don't forget to click on the Audio Transcript for the translation!

Read Tom and Nat's descriptions of themselves and complete the activity.

Tom: Tengo el pelo largo y castaño. No llevo barba. Tengo los ojos azules.

Nat: Tengo el pelo rubio y ondulado. Llevo gafas. No tengo pecas.

Describing personality

To describe someone’s personality, use the verb ser (to be) and different adjectives.

Make sure that adjectives agree with the person that they are describing.

For example:

  • Me llamo María. Soy inteligente y simpática - I am called María. I am clever and kind.
  • Mi mejor amigo es hablador pero creativo - My best friend is chatty but creative.

Remember that adjectives that end in -e are the same in the masculine and feminine forms.

For example:

  • Mi primo es activo y amable - My cousin is active and nice.

Use the tables below to describe your personality and the personality of someone that you know.

Don’t forget to use the correct form of the adjective for the person you are describing.

SpanishEnglish
¿Cómo es tu personalidad?What sort of person are you?
Soy…I am…
¿Cómo es tu hermano/tu hermana?What sort of person is your brother/your sister?
Es…He/She is…
Es simpáticoHe is friendly
Es simpáticaShe is friendly
Es generosoHe is generous
Es generosaShe is generous
Es graciosoHe is funny
Es graciosaShe is funny
Es honestoHe is honest
Es honestaShe is honest

Have a look at this downloadable vocabulary list to see more words to describe people

Describing people - extra vocabulary
document

You could also add intensifiers before the adjective to enhance your language.

For example:

  • Mi hermano es muy creativo - My brother is very creative.

  • Mi madre es un poco estricta - My mother is a bit strict.

Can you use these intensifiers to describe different people’s personalities in more detail?

SpanishEnglish
muyvery
un pocoa bit
bastantequite
demasiadotoo

If you want to compare two things, you can use más (more), followed by an adjective and que (than) followed by a noun.

The adjective still needs to agree with whatever is being described.

For example:

  • Mi hermana es más alta que mi hermano - My sister is taller than my brother.
  • Mi madre es más inteligente que mi padre - My mother is more intelligent than my father.
  • Soy más bajo que mi hermana - I am shorter than my sister.

Quiz

Watch the video and test your understanding of describing people in Spanish in this short quiz!