Using Bien vs Bueno in Spanish
The words for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in Spanish are deceptively difficult. They are often used incorrectly by native English speakers, for two main reasons:
1. Because both good and bad can be represented by two different words
2. The words change their meaning depending on if they are used with estar or ser.
Let’s take a closer look:
Part 1. Bien vs Bueno
In general, bien is used as an adverb. It typically means something like well, or all right. In some cases, it’s used to mean quite.
Habla español muy bien =
She speaks Spanish very well
Él trabaja bien con otras personas=
He works well with others
Una casa bien vieja =
A house quite old
¡Bien hecho! =
The opposite of bien is mal.
Ella lee mal =
She reads poorly
Ella está mal =
She is ill / not well (either physically or mentally)
Todo va muy mal con mi trabajo =
Everything is going really badly with my work
¡Mal hecho! =
Bad job! / Poorly done!
Conversely, bueno is used as an adjective. It often translates as good. It can also serve as an interjection which means well, and it serves as a greeting for answering the phone.
Un chico bueno =
A good boy
Tenía un precio bueno =
It had a good price
¡Qué bueno! =
Bueno, es possible, pero no sé =
Well, it is possible, but I don’t know
¿Bueno? (on the telephone) =
Keep in mind a few important things about the use of bueno:
1. It’s gender specific, so if you are describing a female noun, you must use buena
Un chico bueno
Una chica buena
2. It changes based on plurality, so if you are describing anything plural, you must use buenos or buenas
Dos chicos buenos
Dos chicas buenas
3. There is also a special case. When placed in front of the noun, and when the noun is masculine and singular, you must use buen instead of bueno
Un buen chico =
A good boy
Hace un buen tiempo =
It’s nice out (weather) / It’s a good temperature
The opposite of bueno is malo.
The same rules with bueno also apply to mal0:
– it is gender and plural specific
un chico malo
una chica mala
dos chicos malos
dos chicas malas
– it changes to mal, when placed in front of a singular masculine noun
un mal chico
Part 2. Estar vs Ser (with bien & bueno)
As you probably know, ser and estar both mean to be but are used in different circumstances. So not surprisingly, the use of estar and ser with bien or bueno has a different meaning.
Look at the following 2 short phrases:
Ella está bien
Ella está buena
These phrases don’t mean the same thing. Here are the translations:
Ella está bien = She is (doing) well / healthy
Ella está buena = She is attractive
If we use their exact opposites/negatives, you would expect similar meanings, though that’s not exactly the case:
Ella está mal = She is not doing well
Ella está mala = she is sick
There can be more than one meaning when using the verb estar with either bien or bueno. Here’s a summary of their different meanings, depending on the situation:
To say someone is doing well / feeling well
Mi abuelo tiene 80 años pero está muy bien
My grandfather is 80 years old but is very healthy
To say something is ok
No pasa nada, si ella viene está bien
No problem, if she comes it’s okay
To say something is correct
Este ejercicio está bien. ¡Enhorabuena!
This exercise is correct. Congratulations!
To say someone is attractive / hot
Mi compañero de clase me pone nerviosa, está muy bueno
My classmate makes me nervous, he is really hot
To say something tastes good (food)
Esta paella está muy buena ¿Cómo la has cocinado?
This paella is very good. How did you cook it?
Estar: bien/mal vs bueno/malo
*** Ser cannot be used with bien ***
Ser can only be used with bueno/malo.
Using ser with bueno, has a different meaning from either estar bien and estar bueno. Here are the meanings of ser bueno, again depending on the situation:
To say someone has a good character
Ella es muy bueno – cuando ha encontrado dinero, se lo ha dado a la policia
She is a very good person – when she found money, she gave it to the police
To say something is of good quality
Esta mesa es buena, es de madera de roble
This desk is good quality, it is [made] of oak wood
To say something is good for … something (often your health)
Salir a correr es bueno para la salud
To go out running is good for your health
So, knowing what you know now, what is the difference between the following two phrases?
Mi novio está muy bueno
Mi novio es muy bueno
Mi novio está muy bueno =
My boyfriend is very good looking
Mi novio es muy bueno =
My boyfriend is a very good person
In summary, here are all the meanings of bien and bueno with estar and ser:
to be healthy, ok or correct
to be attractive or taste good
to be of good character or quality, or good for your health
Summary: bien/mal vs bueno/malo (Estar/Ser)
FREE cheat sheet
Bien vs Bueno
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