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I've seen all of these used to mean 'pretty', although 'hermosa' seems to mean beautiful and 'guapa' seems to mean handsome. Are there any subtle differences them?

For instance, in English being beautiful is a much higher complement than being pretty, do these words have different levels of praise to them as well? Can guapa be used for females as well as males? How can I learn which one to choose for a given situation?

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Guapa can only be used for females. For males you use guapo. But I'm sure you knew this. In any case guapa and guapo are very common in Mexico and seem to be used by young people like hot in English. Or maybe just like attractive. – hippietrail Dec 8 '11 at 16:13
There is a kind of slang, at least in Mexico, that when you say: "ponte guapo" instead of meaning that you should dress up to go out... means that someone is asking you to pay for something... – Gabriel G Jun 10 '13 at 22:22
I have heard some say.... Anda bien "guapo" He is very guapo.. In a so drunk terminology... Of course its also slang because it actually makes no sense... – user6806 Oct 19 '14 at 19:33
And precios@? Similar to gorgeous in English, IMO.. – user10786 Sep 10 '15 at 10:35
up vote 20 down vote accepted

I will try to make a comprehensive answer on the subject.

First of all, Guapa(o), Hermosa(o), Linda(o), Bonita(o), Bella(o) are all synonyms to some extent, so one can be used in the place of the other most of the time. Although some are more appropriate than others depending on context, read further.

Second, let's define all of these terms according to the RAE, this alone may help you see the subtle differences between them.


(Del b. lat. boniton).

  1. m. Pez teleósteo comestible, parecido al atún, pero más pequeño.

Ver artículo enmendado

bonito2, ta.

(Del dim. de bueno).

  1. adj. grande (‖ que supera a lo común). Tiene un bonito mayorazgo

  2. adj. Lindo, agraciado de cierta proporción y belleza.

bello, lla.

(Del lat. bellus). 1. adj. Que tiene belleza.

  1. adj. Bueno, excelente.

□ V. arte bella bellas letras bello sexo

lindo, da.

(Del lat. legitĭmus, completo, perfecto).

  1. adj. Hermoso, bello, grato a la vista.

  2. adj. Perfecto, primoroso y exquisito.

  3. m. coloq. Hombre afeminado, que presume de hermoso y cuida demasiado de su compostura y aseo.

lindo don Diego.

  1. m. coloq. lindo (‖ hombre que presume de hermoso).

de lo ~.

  1. loc. adv. Lindamente, con gran primor.

  2. loc. adv. Mucho o con exceso.

□ V. linda pesca linda pieza

hermoso, sa.

(Del lat. formōsus).

  1. adj. Dotado de hermosura.

  2. adj. Grandioso, excelente y perfecto en su línea.

  3. adj. Despejado, apacible y sereno. ¡Hermoso día!

  4. adj. coloq. Dicho de un niño: Robusto, saludable.

guapo, pa.

(Del lat. vappa, vino estropeado, hombre vil, vagabundo).

  1. adj. coloq. Bien parecido.

  2. adj. coloq. Animoso, bizarro y resuelto, que desprecia los peligros y los acomete. U. t. c. s.

  3. adj. coloq. Ostentoso, galán y lucido en el modo de vestir y presentarse.

  4. adj. coloq. U. en vocativo, vacío de significado, como expresión de cariño, a veces con retintín o con tono de irritación. Cállate un poquito, guapo

  5. m. Hombre pendenciero y perdonavidas.

  6. m. En estilo picaresco, galán que festeja a una mujer.

  7. m. pl. vulg. Prendas que se ponen en días de fiestas y ocasiones muy señaladas.

~ y apoyado.

  1. loc. adj. coloq. Ven. Dicho de una persona: Que tiene respaldo de los gobernantes.

Now that we defined those terms we can see that bonito is also a kind of fish, that lindo is also a man with female mannerisms or that guapo can be clothing or a guy that lies and is vain.

You ask if guapa can be used for both males and females, well guapa is inherently for females, but if you want it for males you have to say guapo. Guapa(o) is most of the time used for young people and specially for men (guapo, and depending on the region) Guapa can be used for females without it being weird or seldomly used but bonita for females is preferred over guapa. As guapo is preferred over bonito. Guapa(o) can be for someone that you wouldn't really treat formally even if you don't know this person. If you are young and she/he is young too, you would seldomly treat this person as usted, therefore you use guapo. Guapo is almost never used to describe a thing, except if you are teasing. (Please note that in many regions of Spain, guapo is to describe something that is cool, nice or awesome.) Nonetheless, in Latin America it is mostly used for people.

However if the person is someone that you would treat formally such as an old person, or a 'respected' person then you can probably say bello or bonito / lindo, now bello is more used in literary and in elaborate contexts or someone that wants to show vocabulary skills.

Hermoso is sometimes used to describe someone but more used to describe something in nature, a paysage or something that is very majestic. As the definition says hermoso is also used to describe a baby that is healthy in his looks, I can attest that this form is widely used as a native speaker.

For a more general word lindo or bonito is what you are looking for. Both words can be used in any context, to describe a person, young or old, formal or informal, to describe things or anything you can think of.

Nota: I am a native speaker and this is based mostly on experience with a grain of opinion. There are many regions that I don't know which words are more used than others, specially Central America, Philippines and Equatorial Guinea. Other than that I can say that this applies to the rest of regions to some degree.

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Had no idea about the fish. ¡Qué bonitos son los bonitos! – jrdioko Dec 8 '11 at 18:10
@jrdioko Yep. The bonito flesh is somewhat similar to tuna. And is sometimes canned and sold as fake tuna – Dr. belisarius Dec 8 '11 at 21:24
@belisarius: There are several species called bonito, but in Spain, it usually refers to bonito del norte or atún blanco, and is the most appreciated one. Apparently, so is in the US, since it is the only species tha can be labeled "white meat tuna". So, if you are in Spain and see canned "Bonito", prefer it over canned "atún". – MikMik Dec 29 '11 at 9:10
The word guapo is used in PH (as gwapo) but is exclusive to the male gender only (we don't have guapa, at least for the modern Filipino speakers). The one for the female is maganda, of Malay origin if I recall correctly. – Eduardo Jan 3 '14 at 17:22
En Argentina, a diferencia de España, raramente se usa la palabra guapo como sinónimo de bello o lindo. Se suele usar generalmente como sinónimo de valiente o rudo. – donsenior Sep 15 '15 at 14:46

My quick take:

  • Bonita: pretty
  • Linda: pretty (commonly used in Latin America but not in Spain)
  • Hermosa: beautiful
  • bella: pretty (between bonita and hermosa)
  • guapa: handsome (a handsome man can be called "guapo")

It is really hard to advise which ones to use. It depends on too many things. Are you making a compliment or are you talking to your friends about her? Social standing, country, etc. Just listen to the people around you. Then try some words and observe the reactions. :-)

Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker of neither spanish nor english.

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Guapa (or guapo). Is mostly used to say that somebody has a beautiful face. This is the most common word. It doesn't say anything about the rest of the body. Some young people could also use it to refer to cool situations or things but it's slang.

Bonita (or bonito, not very common for man) is used both for people and objects. Beautiful. Sometimes is better not to use this word with a woman because she could thing you treat her as an object.

Hermosa (hermoso). Beautiful face and body. Many years ago it was used to say that somebody looked healthy, not thin, with good skin color. Still nowadays some people use it to mean a little bit fat. Then it could be misunderstood. It's also very common to say "un día muy hermoso".

Bella. Beautiful face and or body. Not very common in Spain, maybe more common in South America. It sounds old fashioned. Bello is only used for objects.

Linda. beautiful face and body. It refers to a thin woman with graceful movements. More common un Ámerica.

Está buena. Is the most common expression to say "She has an attractive body".

Preciosa: Very beautiful. Both body and face. (specially the face).

Es un bombón: Very good body, and beautiful face as well.

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+1 A very complete and accurate answer, in my opinion. I would add that bonito is, indeed, uncommon for men, but you can use it for babies or very young boys. – Gorpik Oct 3 '13 at 13:39
It seems to me that the exact extend of each of these words might vary from country to country. I would find hard to imagine a woman feeling offended by being addressed as bonita, and linda would apply mainly to face and personality (not body). – Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Oct 4 '13 at 18:52

Guapo and Guapa in the Dominican Republic is used primarily to indicate an emotional state in which a person is (usually not permanently) notably demonstrating anger, irritation, or discomfort towards another person/s or because of an event, or other concern, which is adverse and preoccupies or agitates the person. Similar to grumpy. "Los que perdieron el partido están guapos" (Those who lost the match are grumpy). In this sense a person "esta guapo" rather than "es guapo", the latter almost always used to define a person as being brave: "Ese soldado es un hombre guapo." (That soldier is a brave man).

The other four denote beauty (pretty "lindo", cute "bonito", beautiful "bello", handsome "hermoso y buen mozo") and may be used both to name the person or the appearance of the person (as a compliment) "Linda, bella, hermosa estas muy bonita."

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Guapo is a word which in some countries, if used with men, it means aggressive and prompt to fight, therefore, should be avoided even with woman unless the person is in Spain.

Bella is the highest compliment to any woman. Is like saying she's perfect and perceived by the receiver as if. Hermosa we call our countries, so it's more used nowadays for patriotic expressions and bonito we don't even use since it refers to a fish, as said before, and also, had some slang not nice symbolic meaning at some point in the 90's.

Lindo is mostly used as someone said, for kids. Cool thing about spanish, it's like Italian in Italy, different by country (by Block in Italy). I'm speaking Puerto Rican Spanish, accepted as a variation of the language with it's own dictionary.

Careful with calling guapo a male in Puerto Rico, it could definitely cause a fight.

Spanish language is amazing. If you are confused with lindo, hermoso, bello, guapo y bonito, try te amo, te quiero, te tengo cariño y te adoro and you'll love it. I love all of them, they express different kinds of love feelings related to different peoples in our lives. English does not offer this and Spanish does.

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I am adding a comment that was proposed as edit: actually, English does offer this. E.g. I love you. I like you. I fancy you. I adore you. I want you. I desire you. You are all that I desire. I care about you. I feel you. I'm digging on you. You're one of my kind. Etc. – fedorqui Jul 4 at 7:00

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