How to Describe People

How to Describe People

“Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.”

Samuel Butler, an English author

When describing people, you may need vocabulary related to physical appearance, character, mannerisms, etc. In this article we’ll look at vocabulary like this, and also teach you a couple of words describing the way people smile. So, smile and read on…


He is tall, slender, blush in his cheek.

He’s as scrawny as I am!

The man was extremely lanky with dark, heavy bags under his eyes and long shaggy hair.

He was such a gangly, shy, minor public schoolboy then.

It’s not my cooking that’s made him stout.

Even you, with your stocky build, couldn’t do it.

He was bald and plump, with a moustache /məˈstɑːʃ/.

  • slender – thing in an attractive/graceful way
  • scrawny /ˈskrɑːni/ – thin in a way that is not attractive/healthy
  • lanky – tall and thin (and usually awkward) (= gangly)
  • bags under your eyes – loose dark areas of skin below your eyes that you get, for example, when you have not had enough sleep
  • shaggy – long and tangled (twisted together into a knot)
  • stout /ˈstaʊt/having a large body that is wide with fat or muscles
  • stocky – short and heavy
  • bald /ˈbɑːld/ – having no hair or very little hair on the head
  • plump – slightly fat

Remember that calling someone fat is rude. So, depending on the situation, you may want to use “stout,” “stocky,” or “plump” instead of “fat.”


Hi Sam,

Guess who I saw yesterday? Our old classmate, Tom Johns! First thing I noticed was he’s really bulked up (he used to be lean and wiry, didn’t he?) but also that he still looks so unkempt. His sister was always the opposite – never a hair out of place and immaculate clothes, remember? But they were different in appearance too, I think. He has a rather swarthy complexion and his sister’s was more sallow. I must say he looked a bit haggard too. He must be working hard. Anyway, how are things with you?


  • to bulk up – to get bigger and heavier
  • lean – not having much fat on the body
  • wiry – very thin but strong and muscular
  • unkempt – messy, untidy
  • never a hair out of place – always well-dressed, neat and smart-looking
  • immaculate – perfectly clean
  • swarthy /ˈswoɚði/ – having dark skin
  • sallow – slightly yellow in a way that does not look healthy
  • haggard – looking very tired, worried, or ill
She looks haggard.


Don’t grin at me. I’m going to wipe my face up.

She’s grinning from ear to ear because she’s got her driving license.

He gave her a leering look.

Why do you pout in all your selfies?

The teacher scowled at me when I walked in.

The patient grimaced in pain when his wound was touched.

  • to grin at sb. – to smile widely
  • to grin from ear to ear – to grin very broadly
  • to leer – to look at someone in an evil or unpleasantly sexual way (adjective – leering; noun – leer)
  • to pout /ˈpaʊt/ – to push out your lips to show that you are angry or annoyed or to look sexually attractive
  • to scowl /skaʊl/ – to look at someone or something in a way that shows anger or disapproval (noun – scowl)
  • grimace /ˈɡrɪməs/; /ɡrɪˈmeɪs/ – a facial expression in which your mouth and face are twisted in a way that shows disgust, disapproval, or pain (verb – to grimace)


I asked him a very simple question and he just shrugged his shoulders.

The border guard folded his arms across his chest and glared (looked in a very angry way) at me. 

President Trump often sits with his arms tightly crossed.

Why is my eye twitching?

Next time, leave the thumb outside the fist when you clench.

Drumming or tapping the fingers can indicate frustration, for example when another person is speaking and the person wants to interrupt.

  • to shrug your shoulders – to raise and lower your shoulders usually to show that you do not know or care about something
  • to fold your arms – to put your arm over your other arm in a way that keeps them together (= to to cross your arms)
  • to twitch – to make a slight, sudden movement that is not controlled or deliberate
  • to clench your fistsee the picture below
  • to drum/tap one’s fingers  – to hit your fingers against something lightly
They are clenching their fists.

By the way, do you know the difference between manners and mannerisms?

It’s bad manners to talk with your mouth full.

The actor can mimic the President’s mannerisms perfectly.

  • manners – behavior while with other people (it’s bad manners = it’s impolite)
  • mannerisms – particular ways of talking or moving

Check out our post on compound adjective describing people’s character.

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