57 ways to describe physical traits in Spanish

57 ways to describe physical traits in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated May 26, 2023

When it comes to describing a person’s physical traits in Spanish, as in other languages, you must be mindful of your wording. There is plenty of vocabulary about physical traits in Spanish, and a lot of these words and phrases don’t translate directly into English. For example, in Spanish, it’s common to describe a woman as “handsome” (guapa) — but in English, this is a faux pas

There are also some Spanish words you should avoid when describing physical traits, as they sound rude. (As a foreigner, it’s best to be polite and sensitive with your word choices.) Finally, there are specific grammatical rules to follow when describing physical characteristics in Spanish. 

After reading this article, you’ll be able to use this special vocabulary and grammar to talk about physical descriptions in Spanish.

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57  physical characteristics in Spanish

There are a lot of ways to describe a person’s physical traits in Spanish. Let’s focus on some of the most common by category.

“El atractivo” (Attractiveness)

  1. precioso/a (pretty)
  2. guapo/a (handsome)
  3. atractivo/a (attractive)
  4. bonito/a (pretty)
  5. lindo/a (pretty)
  6. feo/a (ugly)

“La estatura y tipo de cuerpo” (Stature and build)

  1. alto/a (tall)
  2. bajo/a (short)
  3. mediano/a (average height)
  4. delgado/a (lean)
  5. con curvas (curvy)
  6. muscoloso/a (muscular)
  7. en forma (fit)

“El  rostro” (The face)

  1. cuadrado/a (square-shaped)
  2. redondo/a (round)
  3. afeitado (clean-shaven)
  4. descuidado/a (unkempt)
  5. arreglado/a (put together, groomed)
  6. arrugado/a (wrinkled)
  7. pecado/a (freckled)
  8. cejas gruesas (thick eyebrows)
  9. líneas de conejo (smile lines)
  10. lunar (mole)
  11. acné (acne)
  12. hoyuelos (dimples)
  13. barba (beard)
  14. bigote (mustache)
  15. frente ancha (big forehead)
  16. nariz respingona (long and tall nose)
  17. nariz chata (stubby nose)
  18. cicatriz (scar)
  19. ojos azules (blue eyes)
  20. ojos morenos (brown eyes)
  21. ojos negros (black eyes)

“El edad” (Age)

  1. joven (young)
  2. adulto mayor (older adult)
  3. de mediana edad (middle aged)
  4. de tercera edad (senior)
  5. adolescente (adolescent)
  6. adulto (adult)
  7. en sus veintes/treintas/cuarentas (in one’s 20s/30s/40s)

“Las vestimentas” (Clothings/garments)

  1. arreglado/a (put together)
  2. elegante (elegant, smart)
  3. regia (fabulous, regal)
  4. sucia (dirty)
  5. desarreglado/a (unkempt)
  6. de moda (hip/stylish/fashionable)

“Pelo” o “cabello” (Hair)

  1. liso y largo (straight and straight)
  2. rizado (curly)
  3. teñido (dyed)
  4. ondulado (wavy)
  5. trenzado (braided)
  6. pelo negro (black hair)
  7. pelo moreno (brown hair)
  8. pelirrojo (red hair)
  9. pelo rubio (blond hair)
  10. clavo/a (bald)

There are also lots of ways to describe personality in Spanish, which you can find here.

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Avoid these physical descriptions in Spanish

In Spanish, descriptions of physical traits can sometimes have cultural implications. Some of those are rooted in racism, colonialism and discrimination. As a foreigner, it can be difficult to decipher these implications without knowing them ahead of time. To make matters more confusing, some Latin Americans use these types of words to describe people on a daily basis, and their meanings may differ depending on the context. 

For example, in some places, it may seem normal and acceptable to simply call someone “fat.” Contrary to your better instincts or what you’re used to back home, many Latinos will insist that these words or nicknames are neutral and even playful; as such, you may hear them used in diminutive form with the suffixes -ito/a or -illo/a. 

In any case, some words are definitely more complicated than others. Consider erring on the side of politeness and avoiding the following words and phrases.

Word or phrase to avoidSuggested alternative*
gordo (fat or fat person)persona con curvas (curvy person) 
persona con sobrepeso (overweight person)
negro (Black or Black person)persona afrodescendiente (person of African descent)
persona de color (person of color)
prieto (dark or dark person)
moreno (dark or dark person)
persona de piel morena (person with brown skin)
Chino (Chinese person)persona asiática (Asian person)
Japonés/a, Coreano/a, etc. (Japanese person, Korean person, etc.)
Note: Chino is commonly used incorrectly to describe any Asian person, whether Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, etc. Stick with one of the above alternatives unless you are sure.
Indio (Indian)persona indígena (indigenous person)
viejo (old)anciano (old)adulto/a mayor (older adults)
enano (dwarf)persona de estatura baja (person of short stature)
chacha (maid)
gata (maid)
ama de casa (maid)
trabajador/a del hogar (housekeeper)

* The alternative suggestions for physical traits in Spanish are recommended by the Counsel to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City (COPRED).

Using Spanish physical characteristics in a sentence

Now that we have learned a lot of new vocabulary about physical traits in Spanish, let’s put it into full sentences. There are a few essential verbs we use to describe or talk about people in Spanish:

  • ser/estar (to be)
  • tener (to have)
  • vestirse (to dress)

Make sure you understand the difference between ser vs. estar. Ser (to be) is used to describe the permanent qualities of a person, while estar (to be) implies a quality that’s temporary. For example, if you dye your hair purple, you should say:

  • El pelo está morado. (My hair is purple.)

But for your natural, permanent hair color you should say:

  • El pelo es negro. (My hair is black.)

Tener (to have) is used to describe qualities that are nouns:

  • Ella tiene hoyuelos, pecas y ojos azules. (She has dimples, freckles and blue eyes.)
  • El Joker tiene pelo verde, piel blanco y labios rojos con cicatrices en las esquinas. (The Joker has green hair, white skin and red lips with scars on the corners.)
  • En mis veintes yo era muy delgada, pero ahora me encantan las curvas que tengo. (In my twenties I was very skinny, but now I love the curves that I have.)

Vestirse (to dress) is a reflexive verb used to describe how someone dresses:

  • Me visto elegante. (I dress smart.)
  • Se viste de moda. (She dresses hip.)

Gorgeous physical traits in Spanish

Whether you are talking about yourself, a friend or the person that stole your phone and ran down the street, describing physical traits in Spanish is an important skill. Depending on which person’s feature you want to portray, the vocabulary will change — as will the grammatical rules that apply to it. Remember that learning a new language doesn’t only mean learning a new way to communicate; it also means absorbing a new worldview. In doing so, be mindful not to be offensive when you are asked to describe someone. 

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez

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