I always thought that the word "nice" can be also a synonym for "beautiful" (external beauty or external appearance) For example:

She is nice = She looks good.

but yesterday I was told by a non native English speaker that according to his native language dictionary (Ukrainian - see here) the word "nice" doesn't refer to external beauty. Then I checked it out in Cambridge dictionary in order to prove that "nice" refers also for external beauty, but to my great surprise I saw that there is no any consideration about external beauty among its definitions for the word "nice". So I'm already not sure if this meaning to this word is correct or not.

An example that simplify my meaning is:

"There were two women there: one was fat and one was skinny. Who was nicer (=looks better)?"

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    "She is nice" is most definitely not the same as: "She looks good" in most people's world view. look, appear, seem are used to describe how things appear to be. to be nice describes how someone behaves toward others. And would be macho talk about women if it meant something else: she is pretty. It would also be making women into objects. – Lambie May 22 '18 at 13:29
  • The other lesson here is never rely on a single dictionary to settle an argument. The word nice has many possible meanings; not every dictionary will list every one. – J.R. May 22 '18 at 14:50
  • You're absolutely right. Anyway agree with me that it should not happen for a common meaning of word. It doesn't make sense that a common meaning would be omitted, unless it's a rare meaning then it more make sense, but it's not the case here. I believed (and maybe still believe) that it's not so rare meaning for "nice". – Judicious Allure May 22 '18 at 14:58
  • I won't agree with you here because (a) the dictionary you picked only listed three meanings (which should have been a clue to go start checking more dictionaries), and (b) one could argue that using nice in this sense is at best an informalism (that is, it may be common in locker rooms filled with teenage boys, but you're unlikely to see The Atlantic run an article with a sentence that reads, "She is nice" when they mean, "She is attractive"). – J.R. May 22 '18 at 15:52
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    While I would never say "She is nice", when referring to appearance, I would definitely use "She looks nice". The first, to me, applies more to personality than anything else. – TJ Wolschon May 22 '18 at 17:03

Nice can be used to describe anything pleasant or attractive

Nice generally means:

Giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive.

But can also specifically mean:

(of a person) good-natured; kind.

That is, while you can absolutely describe a person as nice to mean attractive looking - some people may interpret you meaning that they are kind or good-natured, and not focusing on their external beauty.

To be unambiguous, it's most common to state the element you think is nice, otherwise most people's default (without surrounding conversation context) is to assume you mean kind/good-natured:

She looks nice.
Who do you think looks nicer?

Otherwise some people may assume you are meaning:

She is a nice person.

Which relates to her inner character.

Again, nice is such an overused/vague term in English - that it can be used to describe almost anything as having a positive/good quality. In general, you will never be wrong to describe something you like as nice - whether it's looks, character or anything else.

With such vague terms (e.g. "good"), it is best to state the exact thing you like - to avoid ambiguity. Although, to note, this is something native speakers can be bad at doing too.

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    Tone, body language, etc is important here. In speech you can be unambiguous without adding 'looks', although using "Nice" or "Very Nice" to describe someone's physical appearance can come across as crass to a native English Speaker. – Chris Pfohl May 22 '18 at 13:56
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    It might help to know that "nice" is also frequently used ironically, to indicate displeasure with something bad. – Todd Wilcox May 22 '18 at 18:10
  • For the most part, "nice" is pretty neutral---unless you explicitly state which aspect it is that one is nice in, be it looks or character. +1 – Soha Farhin Pine May 22 '18 at 20:12
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    Even "she looks nice" can be ambiguous. It could be interpreted to mean "she looks like a kind/good-natured person". – BenM May 22 '18 at 23:00
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    Nice answer! You should avoid overusing nice, but you shouldn't avoid using nice. – CJ Dennis May 23 '18 at 5:52

As a native speaker, I can assure you that "she is nice" would be interpreted, at least in AmE, as she is "kind", "polite", "sweet", etc and not "she is good looking".

There are some contexts where "nice" might mean pretty, but it would more along the lines of "Hey, check out this picture of the girl I met last night" "Nice!"


“Nice” can refer to physical appearance in some contexts. But a sentence like “She/he is nice” would not be understood as referring to appearance. As mentioned in the comments, you would describe a person’s appearance with a sentence like “She/he looks nice.”

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