Vocabulary in English

72 Appearance Adjectives You Need to Describe People in English

72 Appearance Adjectives You Need to Describe People in English

You’re about to learn 72 must-know appearance adjectives to describe how people look. For more adjectives, check out 59 Positive Personality Adjectives to Describe Your Favourite Friends.

OK. Here’s a picture of two brothers:

Chuckle Brothers
Alice 2008 and Chuckle Brothers by Granny Margaret | CC BY 2.0

My question is: Can you describe them?

I mean, really describe them, so that I could have a clear image in my head of what they look like — things like body shape, age, hair, etc.?

If you want to do it well, describing people’s appearance in English can be tricky and requires a lot of detail.

So today, let’s look at 72 appearance adjectives to describe people in English.

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Adjectives for Body Shapes

OK. Let’s start with some adjectives to describe someone’s general body shape.

By the way, we have a few words for body shape: “figure,” “physique” and “build” are the most common ones.

Other Words for “Fat” or “Large”

Overweight
This simply means “heavier than is healthy.”

Obese
It means very overweight. Sometimes it can be quite dangerous …

Overweight man with hammer
… like this guy.

Stout
Maybe slightly fat but strong or solid looking. Usually quite short.

Stocky
Short with a wide body.

Paunchy
You know how some men gain weight?

They don’t just get fat everywhere — just the stomach.

That’s paunchy.

Though we don’t usually say “He’s paunchy.” Go for “He has a paunch.”

Pot-bellied
The same as “paunchy.”

Big-boned
With a large body structure.

We also use this adjective as a euphemism (a way of saying something negative indirectly).

If you call someone big-boned, it’s usually just another way of saying that they’re fat.

Chubby
A little bit fat. Slightly overweight. But only a bit.

Think about cherubs. You know, these guys:

Group of cherubs

Plump
The same as “chubby.”

Podgy
Also the same as “chubby.”

Why do we have so many words for “chubby?” Maybe we just really like cherubs?

Let’s look at some more cherubs:

Cherubs

Curvy
This can be used in two ways.

Sometimes, it describes a woman with a thin waist and wide hips.

And sometimes, it’s used as a euphemism to mean “fat.”

But it’s nicer to say “curvy,” right?

Or better yet, just don’t mention it.

Flabby
We usually use this to describe a part of someone’s body, not the person as a whole.

So someone might have flabby arms or a flabby stomach.

It means they have a lot of loose fat (or skin) that kind of shakes and wobbles when they move around.

Other Words for “Thin” or “Small”

Slender
Thin, in a pretty or elegant kind of way.

Slim
A positive word for “thin.”

You can use this to compliment people:

“Hey, you’re looking slim these days. Have you been working out?”

Lanky
Tall and thin. But in an awkward kind of way.

Lanky stick figure

Skinny
Very thin, possibly too thin.

Like someone who doesn’t eat enough.

Slight
You know those people who are so thin that it looks like they might break into pieces if they fall down? That’s slight.

But be careful: We don’t usually say “She’s slight.” We usually say “She’s got a slight build.”

Petite
This is French for “small.”

In English it also means “small,” but we tend to use it to describe short women.

Other Words for “Muscular”

Beefy
Someone with a lot of muscles. This is informal and usually used for men.

Try to push him over. I bet you can’t.

Beefy man

Buff
In good physical shape. Probably with visible muscle action going on.

Burly
Strong, heavy.

Like a warrior.

Or an ox.

But a guy.

Broad
“Broad” actually means “wide.”

Imagine a wide person — one of those big guys or girls.

Well-built
Big. Strong.

Ripped
What’s the big cliché of the gym?

It’s the 6-pack, right? You know, when your stomach looks like this:

Man with a 6-pack

This is what I think of when I think of “ripped” — muscular and in good shape.

And happy to show it off, probably.

I think I would.

Wouldn’t you?

Other Body Shape Adjectives

Gangly
You know those tall, lanky people who never look comfortable?

They move around looking uncomfortable.

When they sit down, they look uncomfortable and awkward.

They’re gangly.

Stooped
Someone who walks around as if they’re walking through a low doorway — but all the time.

The opposite of standing up straight.

Pigeon-toed
Standing with your feet facing each other, like this:

Pigeon-toed stick figure

Adjectives for Attractiveness

We have a lot of positive words for attractiveness. But look! Only three negative ones.

I think that says a lot of good things about humans.

Other Words for Beautiful

Attractive
Nice to look at.

You’d happily look at this person for hours if it wasn’t socially unacceptable.

Handsome
It’s like beautiful but usually for men.

More masculine and manly. Grrr.

Pretty
Not as strong as beautiful, but still positive. Usually used for women (and my cat).

Cute cat under a blanket
Because there aren’t enough pictures of cats on the internet.

Stunning
Extremely attractive. Even stronger than “beautiful.”

Gorgeous
A more informal way of saying “beautiful” or “handsome.”

Good-looking
Er… he (or she) looks … good.

Cute
We actually often use this for things like kittens.

Kittens are weird — they make us change our voice and say stupid things like “You’re a kitty, aren’t you? What are you? You’re a kitty!”

That’s because kittens are cute.

But we can also use “cute” to mean attractive.

Hot
More or less the same as “sexy.”

Other Words for Ugly

Rough
This is actually quite rude, so be careful with this one.

But it’s there. And it’s used.

It means “very ugly.”

Also, it’s very British.

Plain
This is another euphemism.

We use it when we want to say that someone has nothing about them that’s attractive.

They’re not ugly. Just … boring … plain … even forgettable.

Adjectives for Hair

One of the things that really makes us look different from each other is that weird stuff that grows on the top of our heads: our hair!

I mean, really think about it. Isn’t it strange that we have it?

Adjectives for Hair Type

Curly
Like this:
Stick figure with curly hair

Wavy
More like this:
Stick figure with wavy hair

Straight
Last one:
Stick figure with straight hair

Remember — all of these are used to describe hair, not people.

So say, “He’s got curly hair.”

Not “He’s curly.” That just sounds very weird.

Adjectives for Hair Length

Bald
No hair at all.

It’s all gone.

You’re getting old, mate.

Use this with the person as the subject:

“You’re bald, man! Deal with it!”

Closely-cropped
Very short hair.

So short that you almost look bald.

“He’s got closely-cropped hair. It doesn’t suit him at all.”

Shaved
No hair at all.

But this time by choice. Because you shaved it off.

We use this with “have” or “have got”:

“Since he joined the army, he’s had a shaved head.”

Balding
Not bald. But you will be soon!

Like with “bald,” the person is the subject here: “He’s balding.”

Shoulder-length
Hair down to your shoulders.

We can also have waist-length hair and even knee-length hair.

This one is used with “have” or “have got,” too:

“When I was a kid, I had knee-length hair. I kept falling on it. Very annoying.”

Adjectives for Hair Styles

Dreaded
In a lot of languages, the word for this is “rasta.” Think of Bob Marley.  Just so you know, it’s more common to use the noun:

“She’s got dreads.”

Afro
Very thick, very curly hair in a rounded shape.

Very popular in the 1970s, but I’ve noticed it’s becoming popular again.

Here’s a good dose of afro:
People with afros

Gelled
When you add gel to your hair.

You know, that sticky stuff that you can use to style your hair.

Slicked-back
When you use gel or oil to comb your hair back.

Parted
When you’ve divided the hair into two parts. You can have a centre parting or a side parting (or “part” in U.S. English).

Spiky
When your hair is gelled up into spikes. Easy to draw. So I did:

Stick figure with spiky hair

Adjectives for Hair Colour

Dyed (red, green, etc.)
Maybe you don’t like your hair colour?

Well, no problem — go out, buy some dye and dye your hair.

You can have dyed green hair, dyed red hair or just dyed black hair.

And why not?

Bleached
Or maybe you want something brighter?

Bleach your hair!

This is when you use peroxide to lighten it.

Maybe you’ll end up looking like Courtney Love. Maybe not:

Courtney Love with bleached hair

Highlighted
Perhaps you don’t want to bleach all of it?

Maybe you just want some of it bleached — in lines (or “streaks”).

Then get it highlighted.

Greying
We have to face the truth!

Sooner or later our hair goes grey.

I’m happy with that.

But that bit in the middle? When it’s half grey, half not grey?

That’s a bit annoying. That’s greying hair.

Ginger
“Ginger” is a way of describing people with naturally orange (“red”) hair.

Strawberry blonde
Light red.

But usually a euphemism for ginger.

Mousy brown
A sort of brown, but a sort of pale brown. Like this:

Woman with mousey brown hair
Jennifer Jason Leigh by Gage Skidmore | CC BY 3.0

Adjectives for Hair Condition

Greasy
You know when someone hasn’t washed their hair for a long time?

You run your fingers through it, and you need to wash your hands immediately.

Eugh. Greasy.

Shiny
Hair that reflects lots of light.

You know those unrealistically shiny people with unrealistically shiny teeth and unrealistically shiny hair on shampoo adverts? That.

Adjectives for Age

We can’t deny it. We’re all getting older.

Thirtyish
About thirty. You can do the same with other ages: “sixtyish,” “sixteenish.” In fact, while we’re here, you can do this with times, too: “Let’s meet at Wimbledon at ten-ish.”

Young
You know this, right? But when do you stop being young? This is quite subjective I guess. My answer is NEVER!

Youngish
This is a great way to describe someone who’s sort of young, but maybe hitting middle age. Hard to tell. Youngish!

Middle-aged
It surprises me how different everyone’s answers are to this. Personally, I think it’s 40. From 40, you’re middle-aged. There you go — I’ve just decided for everyone.

Old
But when does middle age end and “old” begin? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask someone older than me.

Elderly
It’s not very polite to describe people as “old.” So we invented this nice, polite, respectful word.

In his early 40s
OK. This is a neat trick to describe people’s ages when you don’t know exactly how old they are. There’s a simple formula for this:

in his/her early/mid/late teens/20s/30s etc.

Jerry? Oh, he’s in his mid-sixties.

You know that guy in the office in his early twenties? He just quit.

She’s pregnant? I thought she was in her fifties!

Other Appearance Adjectives

There are a few adjectives to describe appearance that don’t really fit into any category, but I couldn’t just leave them out as they’re pretty useful.

Here they are!

Spotty
You know those red spots many unfortunate teenagers get on their face? Technically the condition is called “acne,” but we usually just say “spots.” I was one of those unfortunate teenagers.

Clean-shaven
Without a beard. But for a guy, not a woman.

Pierced
We usually use this word to describe someone who has a noticeably large number of piercings.

Tattooed
Someone with a lot of tattoos.

Hairy
Lots of hair! Everywhere! Even on the back and the back of the hands!


Hooray! 72 adjectives to describe appearance!

So let’s have fun with these.

Think about your best friend.

Done that? Good. Now tell me — what does (s)he look like?

Answers in the comments! Best description gets a free virtual cake.

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