Spanish Verbs Tener, Ser, Llevar And How To Describe People

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In this Spanish lesson, we will learn how to use the Spanish verbs tener, ser and llevar in order to describe people. Some of you know the basic vocabulary to describe people; however, sometimes we want to make a comprehensive and more descriptive description of a person, to talk about his physical appearance and personality. In this lesson we will learn about what verbs you can use and what verbs you cannot, as well as some new vocabulary.

To speak of the characteristics considered permanent or objective in a person we use the verb SER.

For example:

Tom Cruise es bajo, castaño y lindo. (Tom Cruise is short, has brown hair and is cute.)

Also SER is used to discuss the permanent features in the personality of a person:

Steve Jobs es inteligente, creativo e innovador. (Steve Jobs is smart, creative and innovative.)

When we want to highlight particular parts of the body, we must use TENER:

Tiene ojos grandes ( She has big eyes), ojos chicos (small eyes), ojos verdes (green eyes), ojos azules (blue eyes), ojos negros (black eyes), ojos grises (gray eyes). Él tiene frente ancha (He has a large forehead), frente angosta (small forehead). Alguien puede tener nariz grande, linda, fea, pequeña (Someone can have a big, cute, ugly, small nose). Orejas grandes, chicas, puntiagudas (Large, small, pointy ears). Boca ancha, finita, grande (A wide, finite, large mouth). Mentón largo (Long chin). Pelo rubio, castaño, morocho, pelirrojo/colorado, lacio, rizado, corto, largo. (blonde hair, brown hair, dark-haired, red hair, straight hair, curly hair, short hair, long hair). BUT: no tiene pelo, ES calvo/pelado (He doesn’t have hair, he is bald).

Also: Tiene un lunar (She has a mole), tiene pecas (She has freckles), tiene anteojos (glasses), aparatos (braces), aros (piercings), tatuajes (tattoos).

Can we use “Llevar”(Wears)? Yes, in some cases we can do it:

Lleva anteojos (Wears glasses), pelo atado (hair tied), pelo largo (long hair), pelo corto (short hair), lleva barba (wears a beard), bigote (mustache), lleva sombrero (wears hat).

But the following will NOT work: lleva nariz grande, lleva ojos azules (wear a big nose, wear blue eyes). This is because these are not personal decisions. To have long hair is a personal decision but to have a big nose is not. So just remember, if a physical characteristic of someone is a choice, you can use “llevar.” But if it is not a choice and is an inherent physical characteristic, you must use “Tener.”

If you are still having trouble with using Spanish verbs after reading this article a tool that my private students have found useful is the Verbarrator software. I must admit that I hate the name Verbarrator. My private students have also found that all or most of the learning-Spanish books in the Practice Makes Perfect series have been of immense help to them. This concludes today’s lesson on how to use the Spanish verbs tener, ser and llevar in order to describe people.

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