English vocabulary · expressions · vocabulary

Describe What People Look Like Using Expert Vocabulary

Plus Quiz: What should you call people with white or black skin?

Let’s learn some expressions to talk about how people look. Without of course being demeaning or racist, sexist, or any of these other bad things.

You can talk about someone’s face, and about their body or physique.

Talking about someone’s face:

Open up any women’s magazine and you’ll find helpful tips about how to apply makeup when your face is round, heart-shaped, or oval/oblong (a long narrow face), or square.

If someone has an old face with wrinkles, it’s a wrinkly face.

If there aren’t any wrinkles, they have a smooth face. If it’s too young-looking for someone’s age, they have a baby face.

If the skin in their face is red or ruddy, they have a blush.

Someone can have large eyes, which are either beautiful or innocent-looking. However saying about someone that they have big eyes means that you think they’re greedy!

If someone has pig’s eyes it’s not a compliment. It means they have small eyes that lie deep in the skin.

It’s problematic talking about someone’s big nose. But it’s perfectly okay to say that a person has a long nose. A cute little nose is admired in most parts of the world.

If you don’t like someone you can say they have a big mouth; it means they’re loud. If you just want to talk about the shape of the mouth, you can say it’s large (or small or little).

Talking about hair:

Hair Colour:

Hair can be blond, brown, red, or black.

There are many more shades.

Blond hair can be ash blond (whitish), golden blond or dark blond.

Brown hair can be auburn or chestnut (red-brown colours), or simply light brown or dark brown.

A person with brown or black hair and eyes may be called dark.

If they have light-coloured hair, eyes, and skin they are said to be fair.

Red hair can be orange or copper.

Older people have grey or white hair. Their hair could be greying at the temples (along the sides of their face) or their hair is having white streaks (stripes).

Have a look at the hair dyes that are sold at a cosmetics shop to see even more (imaginative) names for shades of hair.

A person without hair is bald. If they’re losing their hair, they’re going bald or balding.

Hairstyle:

Hair can be straight or curly (with curls). If it’s in between, it’s wavy.

Long hair can be worn in a ponytail or in a braid.

Braided hair

If hair covers the forehead, it’s called bangs or a fringe.

Long hair can be up on the head or it can be hanging down/loose.

Men have hair on their face: a beard on their chin, or a moustache under their nose, or they can wear a goatie which is a little beard just on the chin.

Talking about people’s physique (body):

Someone who is thin would rather like to be called slender. It’s a nicer word.

Someone who is on the fat side or obese (not nice words at all) would be happy if people said they were large or full or chubby. Or they could just be a little overweight.

There are some words to describe people who have heavy bones. They are sturdy or heavily-built. If they’re short and strong, they’re stocky.

If they have lots of visible muscles, they’re muscular.

If a person has a perfect body, they are well-built. If they look as if they practise sports regularly, they’re fit and in (good) shape, and their muscles are toned.

Women who are wide around their hips and breasts and small around the waist are curvy or curvaceous.

If a person looks very good, they’re attractive or sexy or gorgeous. Men are usually called handsome rather than beautiful or pretty, which are reserved for women.

Skin colour

Finally, if you want to talk about someone’s skin, how can you do this in a way that is not racist?

See if you know the answers to this little quiz. Scroll down for the answers.

1 What would you call someone with light skin?

A pale

B ghostly

C white

D a vampire

2 What would you call someone with dark-coloured skin?

A coloured

B black

C Afro-American

D African American

The answers are down here:

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Answers to the Quiz:

1 C White is the best term here. You can also call people with white skin Caucasian.

2 B is the best answer here. President Barack Obama calls himself black. “Coloured” is thought to be old-fashioned. C and D are politically correct to use about black Americans, but if they’re not Americans you’re stuck. Besides, they don’t have to be from Africa. There is also a new fashion wherein blacks call themselves nigger. But this is not standard use, and probably shouldn’t be followed by you (especially if you’re not black yourself). Nigger is still an offensive word for many people.

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