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Es Bueno/Malo vs. Está Bien/Mal

Have you noticed that the Spanish expressions Es bueno and Está bien are often used in very similar contexts in which both are equivalents of "It's good"? The same can be said for Es malo and Está mal, which can both mean "It's bad." As this can be a bit confusing, today's lesson will point out some scenarios in which these phrases can function both similarly and differently.  


When Es Bueno/Malo and Está Bien/Mal Are Different

One of the most challenging aspects of learning or mastering Spanish is understanding the difference between the verbs ser and estar, which both mean "to be." Put in the simplest of terms:


-Ser tends to be used for more permanent qualities and is accompanied by adjectives, which must agree grammatically with the nouns they modify in terms of number and gender.


-Estar describes more variable states like emotions and goes with adverbs, which do not change forms. 


With this in mind, let's take a look at examples of es bueno/malo and está bien/mal, noting the difference in meaning.


Es Bueno/a vs. Está Bien 


Ella es muy buena.

She is very good.

Caption 30, Guillermina y Candelario La Señora Pulpo

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Ya, ya, tranquilos, tranquilos, ella está bien.

It's OK, it's OK, don't worry, don't worry, she's fine.

Caption 15, La Sucursal del Cielo Capítulo 3 - Part 12

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While es buena refers to the girl's character being "good" in a more permanent sense, está bien is employed to express that, at that moment, the character is "fine," as in "safe" or "OK." We also commonly see this use of está bien to convey that a person is "doing" or feeling "fine" at a determined moment, or that a situation is "OK" or "alright":


Está bien, Luis.

It's OK, Luis.

Caption 27, Extr@: Extra en español Ep. 8: La prima de la dueña - Part 5

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Es Malo/a vs. Está Mal


En español decimos: "Es que es muy malo".

In Spanish, we say: "Es que es muy malo" [It's just that he's very bad].

Caption 86, Amaya El burrito Luz - Part 2

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Y si ahora vuelvo a hablar del tema es porque su señora madre está mal.

And if now I talk about the issue again it's because your mother is ill.

Caption 37, Muñeca Brava 33 El partido - Part 3

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In these examples, we see es malo used, albeit ironically, to talk about the donkey's general "bad" character, while está mal expresses that the mother is currently "ill." Estar mal is also used frequently to say that people, animals, etc., are doing poorly at a specific point.


When Es Bueno/Malo and Está Bien/Mal Are Similar

On the other hand, when es bueno/a and está bien are used to talk about certain things or concepts, they can function in a quite interchangeable manner. Let's explore two common scenarios in which this happens. 


Describing Quality

When describing quality, es bueno/a and está bien are often virtually synonymous. As an example, in response to the question ¿Qué tal esa película? (How's that movie?), to indicate that it is "very good," one could reply either Esa película es muy buena or Esa película está muy bien since both mean "That movie is very good." Let's look at some more examples where es bueno/a and está bien could potentially substitute one another. 


Entonces, este mantra es muy bueno

So, this mantra is very good

Caption 69, Ana Teresa Introducción a los mantras

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In this case, Entonces, este mantra está muy bien could be used to express the same idea with no change in translation. 


Pero está muy bien el metro.

But the subway is very good.

Caption 45, Isabel y Paula contigo Transporte público en Madrid - Part 3

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Here, one could also say Pero es muy bueno el metro and mean the same thing. 


Note that, although you could use es malo/a to say that something is "bad," when using está, it would be more common to hear no está bien than está mal, for example, Ese libro no está muy bien (That book isn't very good).


Expressing Judgment

Let's now examine examples where es bueno and está bien could substitute one another for the purpose of expressing judgment about what's good.


"Es bueno que vivas sola". 

"It's good that you live alone."

Caption 57, Carlos comenta La sucursal del cielo - Part 2

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"Está bien que estudies para el examen de mañana" 

"It's good for you to study for tomorrow's exam"

Caption 48, Carlos explica Cómo expresar opiniones en español - Part 4

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Keep in mind that, due to the subjective nature of both sentences, the verbs that follow both es bueno and está bien are conjugated in the subjunctive. Now, let's see similar examples with es malo and está mal that are also quite interchangeable:


"Está mal que Roberto trabaje tanto".

"It's bad that Roberto works so much."

Caption 76, Carlos explica Cómo expresar opiniones en español - Part 4

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Mis padres me dicen que eso es malo

My parents tell me that that is bad

Caption 25, Club de las ideas Seguridad en internet

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Take into account, however, that when what is being described entails a moral judgment about something or a statement about the correctness of information, está bien/mal would be preferable, as we see below, noting the change in translation.


Lo que usted hace está mal.

What you're doing is wrong.

Caption 87, Muñeca Brava 48 - Soluciones - Part 6

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Sin embargo, el artículo "los" es masculino plural, así que no está bien.

However, the article, "los" [the], is masculine plural, so it's incorrect.

Captions 77-78, Carlos explica La concordancia gramatical - Part 1

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Exceptions to the Rules

While we have talked about ser accompanying bueno/a and estar going with bien/mal, and it would be totally incorrect to say es bien or es mal, there are cases in which está bueno/a or está malo/a are commonly used. Let's take a look at some common ones:


When Something Is Tasty


Está bueno.

It's good.

Caption 16, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 12 - Part 1

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When Something Is Nice/Cool


Está buena la casa, ¿eh?

The house is nice, huh?

Caption 26, Disputas La Extraña Dama - Part 10

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When Someone Is Attractive 


Que cante mi gente -Y está buena, pero qué buena está

Sing along, my people -And she is hot, but how hot she is

Caption 35, Héctor Lavoe Mi gente

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When Someone Is Ill 


Juan se queda en casa hoy ya que está malo.

Juan is staying home today since he's sick


You probably recall from earlier in the lesson that estar mal is another option for talking about sickness in Spanish, so keep your ears open for both.


On that note, we will conclude this lesson, which we hope has helped you to understand when the extremely common Spanish expressions es bueno/malo and está bien/mal can be used interchangeably and when one option is preferable... and don't forget to write us with your comments and questions


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