Bien vs. Bueno: Two little words, such big confusion! There comes a time in life when quickly things become clear, a time that explains a before and an after in a person’s life. In this case, the person is you (a Spanish learner) and the thing is the difference between bien and bueno. You better be able to be surprised! The Spanish word Bien (bee-ehn) represents ‘fine’ and it also means ‘well’. Conversely, the word Bueno (BWEH-noh) means ‘good’.
From these basic variations in the meaning of each word, you can already see two uses of these words. You use bien to answer when someone asks you how you are doing. Instead, you use the word bueno when someone inquires you what you are like as far as personality goes. You are a good person and, thus, you use the word bueno, but only if you are a male. These are the two most elemental uses of the two words. With this in mind, we are now going to learn other uses of bien and bueno.
It’s a phrase that could get you in some trouble in Spanish. Because it doesn’t mean “I’m good” as you might think it does. It means, “I’m hot”, as in, “I’m attractive”. That’s why it’s important to know when to use bien and when to use bueno.
What Do Bien and Bueno Mean?
Do you “cook good”?
Or you are “well at cooking”?
If the two sentences above make you cringe, then you should know that is how it sounds when bien (well) and bueno (good) are mixed up in Spanish, too.
If you have not yet familiar with these two “good” Spanish words, then you are in genuine need of this post.
Every time a beginner has to deal with the words “good” and “well” in English or bueno, buen and bien in Spanish, they get in stress.
They are just a set of cute, small words with only a few meanings, yet they turn to be mixed up often, and they are the reason why sentences like *Estoy un bueno padre (I am a good father) remain (keep on reading in order to find out why this sentence is incorrect in Spanish).
So, let’s make a quick explanation of these two concepts.
- An adjective always modifies a noun, which means that an adjective talks about or is referred to a noun and therefore will accord always with the noun in genre and number. Look at the example:
-El perro mojado corre.
-The wet dog runs.
Here “mojado” is an adjective that talks about the noun, “perro“.
- Whereas adverbs always modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb or phrase, which means that an adverb talks about or is referred to as a verb or other adverb/adjective but not a noun.
-El perro mojado corre rápidamente.
-The wet dog runs quickly.
In this example “rápidamente” is an adverb that talks about the verb, “corre“, and answers the question: “how the action (verb) is done?”.
It’s easy to see the difference between the adjectives and verbs with this kind of words: “mojado” is a participle and they work as adjectives, whereas the words that end in “-mente“, the equivalent of “-ly” in English, are adverbs and always talk about how the action is done.
Well, the problem arrives with the 2 pairs of words I presented you at the beginning of the post.
Bien is an adverb, so it will be referred to the verb, the action, of the sentence. So, as an adverb, the word “bien” won’t appear close to a noun but close to a verb and it will answer the question “How…?”. Look at the examples:
-No he dormido bien.
-I didn’t sleep well. (How did you sleep?)
-Desde que hago ejercicio estoy muy bien.
-Since I do exercise I am very well. (How are you?)
Bueno, on the other hand, is and adjective, so it will accord with the noun it goes with.
-La película buena.
-The good film.
-El libro bueno.
-The good book.
When “bueno” is used before the noun it becomes “buen” but only in the masculine.
-El libro bueno > El buen libro.
So basically bien is translated by well and bueno by good.
So far so good but when to use “bien” or “bueno” with “ser” and “estar“?
I think that’s the most complicated part to understand but here is my attempt to make you finally understand this. “Ser” expresses a quality and “estar” a temporary thing or the result of something. Having this in mind, look at these examples:
-Yo estoy bien.
-I am well, fine, ok.
-Yo soy bueno.
-I am a good person.
-Yo estoy bueno.
-I am good looking. So careful with this if you don’t want to sound cocky
Oh, and remember we never use “bien” with “ser”. So, “Esto es bien“ is wrong, you either say “Esto está bien“, which means that ‘this is right, correct or good’, or “Esto es bueno”, meaning ‘This is good, beneficial’ depending on what you actually want to express.
“Which one should I use in this circumstance?”
Spanish learners (perhaps you) almost always guess wrong. Don’t beat yourself up, these words are not only similar in spelling but also in meaning.
However, there are similarities and there are contrasting differences as well.
Differences or Bien vs. Bueno
But before we go into detail, let’s see the difference between bueno and bien in a flash.
Bueno can be translated into English as “good, nice, kind, okay,” among other meanings (have a look below for more). Since it is an adjective, it is basically used to describe people, animals, and objects:
Juan es un niño muy bueno. (Juan is a very good boy.)
Fumar no es bueno para tu salud. (Smoking is not good for your health.)
On the other hand, bien is translated as “well, properly.” It is an adverb, and as such, it normally answers the question “How?” as in “How do you cook? I cook well.”
Mi primo no se siente muy bien. (My cousin is not feeling very well.)
Hazlo bien o no lo hagas en absoluto. (Do it properly or don’t do it at all.)
But as simple as this seems, we still make mistakes and we still see things like “cooking good” and “well at cooking.” It is time you stop sounding equally weird in Spanish, so let’s learn everything there is to learn about bueno, buen and bien.
How Can We Use Bien?
- When you want to answer ¿Cómo estás? and ¿Cómo te va? questions.
This is pretty straightforward. Bien is the answer to all those questions that ask about how we are feeling and how we are doing:
—¿Cómo estás? —Bien, gracias, ¿y tú? (“How are you?” “Fine, thanks, and you?”)
—Hola, Pedro, ¿cómo te va? —Muy bien, gracias. (“Hi, Pedro, how’s it going?” “Very well, thanks.”)
- When you talk about your health.
Use bien when you want to say that someone is (not) feeling well or is (not) ill:
María no se siente muy bien hoy. (María is not feeling very well today.)
¿Te encuentras bien? (Are you OK?)
Ya estoy bien, pero los últimos meses han sido muy duros. (I’m fine now, but the last few months have been very hard.)
- When you want to emphasize the adjective in a sentence.
If you add the adverb bien in front of an adjective, you emphasize it. This technique is more commonly used in South America than in Spain (where we prefer to use muy instead of bien), but you will be understood perfectly well no matter which country you are in:
El examen ha sido bien difícil. (The exam has been very difficult.)
Esta sandía está bien jugosa. (This watermelon is very juicy.)
Estoy bien cansado tras mi entrenamiento. (I am very tired after my workout.)
- When something is done correctly/properly.
Whether you want to praise your son for being a great cook or you are a teacher and need to give feedback to your students, bien is the correct option here:
¡Qué bien cocinas, Alejandro! (Alejandro, you cook so well!)
Sigue haciéndolo así de bien, hijo. (Keep doing it so well, son.)
Has entendido la lección muy bien. (You have understood the lesson very well.)
- When something works or does not work as it should.
Creo que mi ordenador no funciona bien. (I think my computer is not working properly.)
Esta mañana estaba trabajando bien. (This morning it was working correctly/fine.)
Facebook no se carga bien. (Facebook is not loading correctly.)
- When the answer to a question is “okay, sure, fine or all right.”
This can be applied to almost any kind of question in informal situations. You can use OK, claro (of course), vale (okay) or any other short answer you may know, and that includes bien:
—Nos vemos a las cinco en el parque. —Bien. (“We are meeting at five p.m. in the park.” “Okay.”)
—Vente a cenar, ¿vale? —Bien, no hay problema. (“Come have dinner, won’t you?” “Cool, no problem.”)
—¿Te va bien a las ocho? —Bien, allí estaré. (“Does eight a.m. suit you?” “All right, I will be there.”)
- When you want to say “Bravo!” or “Yahoo!”
We have the word bravo in Spanish, but it is very common, at least among kids in the South of Spain, to shout ¡Bien! instead of ¡Bravo! when they are happy, receive good news, get praised for doing something correctly, etc.
—Has ganado un osito de peluche. —¡Bien! (“You have won a teddy bear.” “Yahoo!”)
—¡Qué bien! Ya he terminado los deberes. (“Bravo! I have finished my homework.”)
—Y la ganadora es Ana. —¡Bien! —Bravo! (“And the winner is… Ana.” “Yahoo!” “Bravo!”)
Expressions and Sentences with Bien
- ¿Todo bien? (Is everything all right?)
- ¡Bien hecho! (Well done!)
- Ahora bien (However, having said that)
- Antes bien (Rather)
- Está bien (It’s Okay/fine, all right)
- Ya está bien (Enough is enough)
- Así está bien (That way is fine)
- Bastante bien (Quite well)
- Bien visto (Considered acceptable)
- Caer bien (To make a good impression, to be liked by)
- Portarse bien (To behave well)
- Dársele bien algo a alguien (To be good at)
- Estar bien empleado (To serve someone right)
- Haz el bien sin mirar a quién (Do what’s right, no matter what people think)
- Ir bien (To go well)
- Ni bien (As soon as)
- Ni bien ni mal (So-so)
How Can We Use Bueno?
- When a person or an animal is good (behaves well).
I bet you have heard the phrase “Good boy!” a million times. I tell my dog “Good girl” every time she does something correctly or obeys my commands.
The same can be said about people. Kids can behave well or be naughty, adults can be on their best behavior or choose to be nasty.
Whatever the case, use bueno when talking about their behavior:
Dame la patita. ¡Buen chico! (Give me your paw. Good boy!)
Mi hijo es un niño muy bueno. (My son is a very good kid.)
Papá Noel dice que no has sido bueno. (Santa Claus says you have been naughty.)
- When a person fulfills their duty correctly.
I gave you the example of Pablo being a good father a few sections earlier. This is one of the best examples of using bueno when someone is the best at their role, be it being a father, teaching or cooking:
María es muy buena madre. (María is a very good mother.)
Eres un buen hombre. (You are a good man.)
Creo que soy un buen profesor. (I think I am a good professor.)
- When something is beneficial for you.
If something is beneficial for you and your health, you say it is good for you in English.
If another thing is harmful or detrimental for you or your health, you can say is it not good.
The same can be said and done in Spanish with the use of the word bueno:
Fumar no es bueno para la salud. (Smoking is not good for your health.)
Hacer ejercicio es muy bueno. (Exercising is very good/beneficial.)
Levantarse temprano puede ser bueno para tu cerebro. (Getting up early can be good for your brain.)
- When something is useful or practical.
Just as people can be good at their job, objects can be useful and practical.
If that is the case, you can say that an object is buen/o:
Es un libro muy bueno. (It is a very good book.)
Creo que es una buena impresora. (I think it is a good printer.)
No hay maleta más buena que esta. (There is no better suitcase than this one.)
- When the quality of an object is high.
If something has been well-made and its quality is above average, you can also use the word bueno in Spanish in order to describe it:
¡Qué buen anillo! (What a good ring!)
Es un coche muy bueno. (It is a very good car.)
Necesito un sofá bueno. (I need a good coach/sofa.)
- When something is tasty.
You may have seen in some of the examples of this post that I have mentioned food quite a bit.
We use the word bueno when something tastes good. Simple as that.
We can also use it in the negative to say that something is not tasty or has gone bad.
Esta hamburguesa está muy buena. (This hamburger is really tasty.)
Esta carne no está buena. Tiene un olor raro. (This meat has gone bad. It smells funny.)
¡Qué pizza más buena! (What a tasty pizza!)
- When someone is attractive.
In other words, when someone is “hot.”
My students came to the conclusion that this meaning of the word bueno is related to the tastiness of food. No wonder we see some people as snacks, right?
However, I don’t want to treat people like pieces of meat, and I keep on thinking that this meaning of the word bueno is just a coincidence.
Whether you decide you use it or not is up to you, but remember it is very informal and some people can get mad at you if you tell them directly. You have been warned!
Lukas está muy bueno. (Lukas is very hot.)
Tu vecina está muy buena. (Your neighbor is very hot.)
Estás muy buena. (You are very hot.)
- When you want to say someone is healthy.
If you were ill and you are healthy again, you can say you feel well now.
The same can be said in Spanish if you use estar bueno, but bear in mind this construction is exactly the same as the one we use to say someone is hot.
The context is normally clear enough not to create confusion, but it is advisable that you keep this in mind when using this word:
María ya está buena. (María is feeling well now.)
Mi padre no está muy bueno. Pobre hombre. (My father is not feeling very well. Poor man.)
Estaba bueno ya, pero ahora tengo la gripe. (I was already feeling well, but I have the flu now.)
- When the answer to a question is “Okay, sure, fine or all right.”
This is the only situation in which you can use bien and bueno interchangeably and no one will bat an eye.
Expressions and Sentences with Bueno
I am including the same examples I used with bien so you can see for yourself there is actually no difference:
-Nos vemos a las cinco en el parque. —Bueno. (“We are meeting at five p.m. in the park.” “Okay.”)
-Vente a cenar, ¿vale? —Bueno, no hay problema. (“Come have dinner, won’t you?” “Cool, no problem.”)
-¿Te va bien a las ocho? —Bueno, allí estaré. (“Does eight a.m. suit you?” “All right, I will be there.”)