Literal or Figurative Coldness… and More
Let’s start with the weather, since that’s the easiest. To say it’s cold, Spanish uses the verb hacer in the third-person singular (as if Mother Nature were the un-stated subject): Hace frío. For most readers, this is probably review. Like many weather phenomena (except forms of precipitation, which all have their own verbs), the verb hacer is used with a noun (hace viento; hace sol, etc.) Just how cold it is can be nuanced by putting mucho or poco between hace and the noun frío (as well as the other nouns): Hace mucho frío or Hace poco frío (which might also just be expressed by saying Hace fresco).
When one speaks of how he or she feels, tener or sentir is used. Both of these verbs are irregular in the present and in the preterite (one of the two simple past tenses in Spanish). Thus, you could say either Tengo frío (I’m cold) or Siento frío (I feel cold). To ask a friend how he or she feels, you could ask either ¿Tienes frío? (Are you cold?) or ¿Sientes frío? (Do you feel cold?).
While you never use ser with frío to speak of the weather, you definitely do use it when speaking of people figuratively (to say they are distant or stand-off-ish) or to state what the nature of something is. Of course, since frío is then an adjective, it will agree in gender and number with the noun(s) it modifies:
Desafortunadamente, mi tío es frío (Unfortunately, my uncle is cold).
Mis tías no son frías (My aunts are not cold).
La nieve es fría (Snow is cold).
When speaking of food or drink, using ser indicates that it is normal or expected that the food is cold (or hot, as the case may be). If estar is used, it shows the condition or state of the food with respect to its temperature:
La sopa está fría (The soup is cold). This shows that it has become cold - and shouldn’t be.
El gazpacho es frío (Gazpacho is cold). Gazpacho is a summer favorite in southern Spain and is a cold soup. It is normal for it to be so, hence ser simply states what one expects.
- Author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.
This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage
The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
- Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
- Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
- Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
- Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
- Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
- What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
- The Word “Country” in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
- How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
- Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
- Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
- Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
- Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal