It is very common for basic –or even advanced– Spanish students to participate in dialogues such as this one:
-¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?
You can see there’s a problem, isn’t that right? Don’t worry: the difference between “bien” and “bueno” is simpler than you think.
To begin with, what kind of words are Bien and Bueno? Well, let’s dive into it!
- Bueno: this is an adjective, which is more commonly translated as “good”. Given that we are talking about an adjective, this word is going to modify a noun. For example:
- El libro es bueno = The book is good.
Also, adjectives change in gender and number, according to the noun they are modifying.
- La película es buena = The movie es good.
- Los chicos son buenos = The boys are good.
Here “bueno/a/s” is modifying nouns, such as “libro”, “película” and “chicos”, which is why it changes in gender or number if the noun is feminine or plural.
For the verb “ser” it is way more common to use “bueno”, instead of “bien”.
- Bien: now this word is an adverb, not an adjective, and, as such, it’s used to modify verbs, not nouns. Besides, adverbs don’t change, they are invariable words. It can be translated as “well” or “fine”, and, in some cases, also “good”.
Let’s see some examples:
- Juan lee bien = Juan reads well.
Here we are not modifying Juan, but the verb “read”. So, if we ask the question “¿Cómo lee Juan?” (“How does Juan read?”), the answer is going to be “bien” (“well”).
This seems quite simple, right? But… why is it so confusing, then?
Now, what usually confuses students about this topic doesn’t have anything to do with the words “bueno” and “bien”. As a matter of fact, it’s usually an issue about the verb “to be” in Spanish!
If we ask “How are you?” (as a greeting), the most decent translation won’t be “¿Cómo eres?” (ser), but “¿Cómo estás?” (estar).
The answer for “¿Cómo estás?” should be “Bien” instead of “Bueno”, because we’re modifying the verb, not a noun.
- ¿Cómo está Gabriel? (How is Gabriel? / How’s Gabriel doing?)
- Está bien (He’s fine).
We’re modifying the verb.
- ¿Cómo es Gabriel? (How is Gabriel like?)
- Es bueno (He’s good / He’s nice).
We’re modifying Gabriel.
So that’s what we have to teach you about the words “bien” and “bueno”! If you want to improve your skills, join us for a class and practice some exercises with us about this topic!