In short – ‘not good’ AND ‘no good’ both literally translate as ‘no bueno’ in Spanish. However, this is NOT a grammatically correct phrase, so tread carefully!
If you wanna sound more native, you should definitely try to avoid this one. It’s a very easy mistake to make, but also (kinda!) easy to correct 😊
So, let’s have a look at EXACTLY why it’s never correct to say ‘no bueno’ AND what you should say instead.
Notebooks at the ready, let’s get to it!
‘No bueno‘ meaning
There are several ways to say ‘not good’ in Spanish, but unfortunately ‘no bueno’ isn’t one of them (if only it were that easy, right?).
Yeah, I know, ‘not’ translates as ‘no’, and ‘good’ is ‘bueno’, but put together, well, they don’t make much sense.
Grammatically speaking, we need one of the verbs ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ (‘to be’ in English) for the sentence to work.
For example, when we translate ‘that’s not good’, we get two possible phrases –
Eso no es bueno.
Eso no está bien.
Notice that in both sentences, ‘no’ comes BEFORE the verb (either ‘ser’ or ‘estar’). Also note that both ‘bien’ and ‘bueno’ can mean ‘good’
‘Bien‘ vs ‘bueno‘
So, how do we know when to use ‘bien’ and ‘bueno’?
Well, ‘bien’ is actually an adverb (which means it’s used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb) and, as a rule, we use ‘bien’ with the verb ‘estar’, and we NEVER use it with ‘ser’.
En una clase de cocina
Maestra – Ese arroz no está bien. Había que añadir más agua.
In a cooking class
Teacher – That rice isn’t good. It needed more water.
Conversely, ‘bueno’ is an adjective, so it modifies NOUNS.
It’s often used with the verb ‘ser’ to describe an inherent or permanent condition –
No soy bueno en la cocina.
I’m no good in the kitchen.
No soy bueno para la manejada.
I’m not a good driver.
It’s important to mention that ‘bueno’ (like all adjectives!) must agree in number and gender with the noun it modifies –
Esa no es buena idea.
That’s not a good idea.
No somos buenos cantantes.
We’re not good singers.
And since ‘bien’ is an adverb, it always stays the same –
No estamos bien estacionados.
We’re not well parked.
Erika’s top tip – basically we NEVER use ‘bien’ with the verb ‘ser’ and 99% of the time we DO use it with the verb ‘estar’ (when translating ‘to be good’, that is!). You CAN sometimes use ‘bueno’ with the verb ‘estar’, but it’s not that common; check out the video below to find out more!
‘No está bien’ vs ‘no está bueno‘
Now this is where it gets tricky for English speakers because we end up with two different options: ‘no está bien’ AND ‘no es bueno’.
So, which one should we plump for?
Well, the good news is that, when referring to concepts or ideas, the phrases, ‘no está bien’ and ‘no es bueno’ are often used INTERCHANGEABLY, so you can *normally* just plump for whichever takes your fancy –
Juan – ¡Ya se enteraron de que nos fuimos de pinta!
Miguel – ¡Híjole! Eso no está bien… / Eso no es bueno…
Juan – They’ve already found out that we skipped classes.
Miguel – Jeepers! That’s not good …
Papá de Miguel – No puedes faltar a la escuela, hijo…no está bien / no es bueno.
Miguel – Perdón, Pa.
Miguel’s Dad – You can’t be missing classes, son … it’s not good.
Miguel – Sorry, Dad.
There might *sometimes* be a slight difference in meaning depending on the country you’re in; normally ‘no está bien’ conveys a more subjective opinion, whereas ‘no es bueno’ is used to talk about more intrinsic qualities (but we’ll talk more about that below!).
Now, if you’re using ‘no está bien’ and ‘no es bueno’ to talk about specific things (think movies, parties, food, etc.), the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ have very nuanced uses / meanings!
In this context, the phrase ‘no está bien’ is generally used when conveying your personal, subjective opinion about something (i.e., one’s own experience) –
La película no está bien.
The film’s not very good.
This is the OPINION of the speaker; he/she obviously didn’t enjoy the film.
The phrase ‘no es bueno/a’, on the other hand, is used to describe more permanent conditions / inherent qualities –
La película no es buena.
The film’s not very good.
Here the speaker is saying that it’s a good film (on a less subjective level)
And with people?
Well, ‘no está bien’ normally refers to someone’s physical state (a temporary condition!) and ‘no es bueno/a’ means something along the lines of ‘he/she’s not a good person’ (an inherent quality!).
Ale no está muy bien ahorita.
Ale isn’t feeling too great right now.
Miguel no es un buen alumno porque siempre fomenta el mal comportamiento de sus compañeros.
Miguel isn’t a good student because he always encourages his classmates to behave badly.
By the way, if you wanna learn more about ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ then make sure to check out our VERY comprehensive video on the subject (we go into the above nuances in MUCH more depth AND various instances in which we use ‘estar’ with the adjective ‘bueno’!).
Let’s have a quick look at some more examples of all the above-mentioned rules, so everything’s crystal clear in that cabeza of yours –
No está bien / No es bueno mentirles a tus seres queridos, Miguel.
It’s not good to lie to your loved ones, Miguel.
Here we’re referring to a concept (lying to your loved ones), so both ‘no está bien’ OR ‘no es bueno’ are possible
Eso no es bueno / Eso no está bien para tu salud.
That isn’t good for your health.
Again, we’re referring to an idea / concept (the fact that something isn’t good for your health), so we can use either ‘no está bien’ OR ‘no es bueno’
Esas manzanas no son buenas.
Those apples are not good.
Here we’re referring to the intrinsic quality of an object or thing (in this case, the apples probably just aren’t very tasty and period!)
Irma – ¿Cómo estuvo la fiesta?
Damián – No estuvo tan bien como imaginaba.
Irma – How was the party?
Damián – It wasn’t as good as I imagined.
This is Damián’s subjective opinion, so we use ‘estuvo’ (3rd person singular of ‘estar’ in the preterite tense)
‘Está mal’ vs ‘es malo’
Another way of saying ‘not good’ or ‘no good’ in Spanish is by using ‘está mal’ and ‘es malo’ –
Fumar es malo para tu salud.
Smoking isn’t good for your health.
Vivian – Disculpen la tardanza, provechito*.
Joel – Está mal / Es malo hacer esperar a nuestros clientes, ¿por qué llegaste tarde?
Vivian – Sorry for the delay, enjoy your food.
Joel – It’s not good to make our customers wait, why were you late?
*Erika’s top tip – saying ‘provechito’ or ‘provecho’ before eating is a popular custom in Latin America; it means something like ‘enjoy your meal’.
Hopefully you now understand why it’s NEVER correct to say ‘no bueno’!
There are quite a few rules in Spanish that might seem overwhelming at first, especially when using the verb ‘to be’ (which is pretty straightforward in English), but the more you practice ‘ser’ and ‘estar’, the less confused you’ll be and switching between them will eventually become second nature.
Ready for your next Spanish challenge? Then head on over to our article on the differences between ‘allí’ vs ‘allá’!