Discussing Temperatures: A Matter of Degrees

Celsius Scale Used in Most of Spanish-Speaking World

Temperatures in Spanish
This thermometer photographed in Spain shows temperatures of about 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside and 64 inside. Daniel Lobo/Creative Commons.

The most common way of indicating temperature in Spanish is to use a form of estar a followed by the number of degrees (grados). Estar is a verb that typically means "to be."

In the present tense, it is usual to use the phrase estamos a (literally, "we are") to discuss the temperature being experienced by the speaker and the persons around him or her. Está a (literally, "it is") is used to discuss the temperature of other places.

See the following examples:

  • Estamos a 30 grados. (It's 30 degrees.)
  • Si la temperatura está a 2 grados o más, los niños juegan afuera excepto si llueve o nieve. (If the temperature is 2 degrees or higher, the children play outside unless it's raining or snowing.)
  • Estamos a 10 bajo cero. (It's 10 below zero.)
  • Hace una semana estaban a 30 grados, pero ahora estamos a 10. (A week ago it was 30 degrees, but now it's 10.)
  • ¡Cuántas veces el aire está a 15 grados mientras que el agua está a 17! (How often the air is 15 degrees while the water is 17!)

Temperatures can be discussed in other ways. As in the following examples, the temperature is frequently preceded by a preposition:

  • Oscila entre 8 y 20 grados centígrados. (Temperatures vary between 8 and 20 degrees Celsius. You also could use the phrase "grados Celsius" here.)
  • Colocar en horno a 200 grados durante 15 minutos. (Set in a 200-degree oven for 15 minutes.)
  • El agua del mar Mediterráneo alcanza los 32 grados de temperatura. (The water of the Mediterranean Sea reaches a temperature of 32 degrees.)
  • Las bacterias se reproducen a una temperatura entre 20 y 30 grados. (The bacteria reproduce at a temperature of 20 to 30 degrees.)
  • Una temperatura normal del cuerpo humano es aquella que se encuentra entre los 36,6 grados y los 37 grados. (A normal temperature for the human body is one between 36.6 and 37 degrees.)
  • Tenía una temperatura de 36.8 grados. (She had a temperature of 36.8 degrees.)

Keep in mind that most of the Spanish-speaking world (indeed, nearly the entire world) uses temperatures in Celsius rather than the Fahrenheit you're used to if you live in the United States. To convert temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, subtract 32 and multiply the result by 0.555 (or five-ninths). To convert temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit, multiply the temperature by 1.8 and add 32. Mathematically, the formulas look like this:

  • C = 5(F-32)/9
  • F = 9C/5 + 32

If you try these formulas, you'll find that a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as 37 degrees Celsius, and vice versa. And the 200-degree oven in one of the examples above is the same as one that's set at a bit under 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of course, mathematical precision isn't always necessary. Here's how I often think of temperatures in Celsius. Of course, if you come from a different type of climate than I do, you may see it differently:

  • -20 degrees C or below (-4 degrees F or below): frigid (muy frío).
  • -20 to 0 degrees C (-4 to 32 degrees F): cold (frío).
  • 0 to 10 degrees C (32 to 50 degrees F): cool (fresco).
  • 10 to 20 degrees C (50 to 68 degrees F): mild (templado).
  • 20 to 30 degrees C (68 to 86 degrees F): warm (caliente).
  • 30 to 40 degrees C (86 to 104 degrees F): hot (muy caliente).
  • 40 degrees C and above (104 degrees F and above): unbearably hot (insoportablemente caliente).