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 mastered these two “good” Spanish words, then you are in serious need of this post. Please, take a seat.
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 trouble.
They are just a couple of cute, small words with only a few meanings, yet they tend to be mixed up often, and they are the reason why sentences like *Estoy un bueno padre (I am a good father) exist (keep on reading in order to find out why this sentence is incorrect in Spanish).
This post will tell you once and for all when and how you should use bueno, buen and bien in Spanish and what kind of constructions and collocations are to be avoided at all costs.
What’s the Difference Between Bien vs. Bueno? The Quick Answer!
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.
It’s All Good! Spanish Bien and Bueno in a Nutshell
Even though these two words have completely different functions in the sentence, they are very often mistranslated or misused, both in Spanish and English, leading to many incorrect sentences as a result.
Follow the rules below so that you never, ever get it wrong again. It only takes a few minutes and a little bit of practice to be a buen maestro (good master) of Spanish!
In addition to reading the rules below, we also recommend that you try to hear these constructions being used in speech. You can do that on FluentU, where real-world Spanish videos like news clips, movie trailers, music videos, inspirational talks and more are turned into personalized language lessons.
FluentU will let you hear how the language is really used by native Spanish speakers, supported by interactive captions, multimedia flashcards and adaptive quizzes that evolve as you learn. It is a great place to hear the difference between the words in this post, since it uses authentic materials to immerse you in Spanish… at any level!
Bien: Translations and Uses
As we saw in the introduction, bien can mean “well” and “properly,” among other things, but when exactly can we use it and how should we translate it into Spanish based on the context?
Bien is an adverb, and as such, it can modify a verb:
Juegas muy bien al fútbol. (You play football very well.)
Está bien rico. (It is very tasty.)
Caminaba bien rápido. (He was walking very fast.)
Or appear by itself in a sentence:
—¿Cómo estás? —Bien. (“How are you feeling?” “Well/Fine.”)
So when exactly do we use bien? Have a look a the rules:
1. 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.”)
2. 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.)
3. 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.)
4. 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.)
5. 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.)
6. 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.”)
7. 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 Phrases 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)
Bueno: Translations and Uses
Bueno is the adjectival counterpart of the word bien, and as such, it behaves very differently.
For starters, bueno has four forms: bueno (masculine singular), buena (feminine singular), buenos (masculine/mixed plural), buenas (feminine plural.)
Bear this in mind when using this word, since it will always have to agree in gender and number with the noun it refers to:
La sopa está muy buena. (The soup is very tasty.)
El bocadillo está muy bueno. (The sandwich is very tasty.)
Los niños son muy buenos. (The kids are very good/nice.)
Las niñas son muy buenas. (The girls are very good/nice.)
When it comes to its meanings, bueno also has its fair share of them. Although the first meaning you will see in the dictionary is “good,” it can also mean “tasty,” “useful,” “beneficial” and even “hello!”
We will have a look at all the situations in which you should use this word in Spanish in a second but first, let’s analyze the difference between bueno and its sibling buen.
Bueno or Buen: Are We Gilding the Lily?
Just when you thought you had everything under control, bueno makes its entrance, and it comes with all its siblings and multiple personalities.
Though this may seem like complicating something already complicated, it actually shows how wonderful, unpredictable and rebellious languages can be.
However, it is not as difficult as it may seem.
The first thing you should know is that bueno and buen are actually two facets of the same word. I tell my students they are the same word with two different personalities.
Their meaning is identical, but their position in the sentence is different.
Bueno is used after a masculine singular noun, as we saw in the examples above. Here are a couple more:
Es un niño muy bueno. (He is a very good child.)
Es un melón bueno. (It is a tasty melon.)
But this word also has the possibility of appearing in front of the same masculine singular nouns. The sentence will mean the same, but bueno has to lose its final -o in order to be able to be in that position:
Es un muy buen niño. (He is a very good child.)
Es un buen melón. (It is a tasty/good melon.)
See? Nothing unsurmountable!
Here are some more examples in case you are still not convinced:
Pablo es un buen padre. (Pablo is a good father.)
Pablo es un padre bueno. (Pablo is a good father.)
Es un buen libro. (It is a good book.)
Es un libro bueno. (It is a good book.)
Now that you know the difference between bueno and buen, let’s see when you are supposed to use these words when speaking/writing in Spanish:
1. 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.)
2. 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.)
3. 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.)
4. 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.)
5. 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.)
6. 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!)
7. 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.)
8. 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.)
9. 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.
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.”)
Expressions and Phrases with Bueno
Bueno (Well, so [filler word])
¿Bueno? (Hello? [on the phone])
¡Bueno! (Enough already!)
¡Qué bueno! (Awesome! Good to know!)
Ser bueno en algo (To be good at something)
Bueno para nada (Good for nothing)
Bueno pues (OK, then)
Dar por bueno (To give the go-ahead)
El bueno de la película (The good guy)
En las buenas y en las malas (Through thick and thin)
La mar de bueno (Very good)
Más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer (Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t)
Por muy bueno que sea (As good as it might be)
Sacar lo bueno (To look on the bright side)
Todo lo bueno se acaba (All good things come to an end)
El visto bueno (The seal of approval)
Phew! That was intense, wasn’t it!
Now you know everything you need to know about bien and bueno, how to use them properly and how to translate them into English.
As you can see, these two words may seem small and cute, but they are hiding a ton of information and rules behind them.
Thanks to this post, you will be able to know exactly which of them you should use every time, so breathe in and stop worrying!
Everything is going to be bien if you study these two words properly.
And as they say, todo lo bueno se acaba, so see you in the next post.
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