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Using 'Malo,' 'Mal' and Related Words

'Mal' Is Usual Adverb Form, Can Also Be Adjective


muchos libros

No hay libro tan malo del que no se pueda aprender algo bueno. (There's no such thing as a book so bad you can't learn something good from it.)

Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta; licensed via Creative Commons.

Malo is a common Spanish adjective meaning "bad" or in some way undesirable (the translation can vary with the context). Its feminine form is mala, and through the process of apocopation it is shorted to mal when it comes before a singular masculine noun.

Its usual adverbial form is mal, although the form malamente also exists.

As an adjective, malo, mala or mal can almost always be translated as "bad," although other translations may be more suitable depending on the context. The plural forms are malos and malas:

  • Quiero comprar un coche y tengo crédito malo. I want to buy a car and have bad credit.
  • Muchas personas consideran que tienen mala memoria. Many people think they have a poor memory.
  • No hay libro tan malo del que no se pueda aprender algo bueno. There's no such thing as a book so bad you can't learn something good from it. (Literally, there is no book so bad from which one cannot learn something good.)
  • No puedo eliminar el mal olor de refrigerador. I can't get rid of the bad refrigerator smell.
  • ¿Hay algo malo con mi teléfono? Is there something wrong with my telephone?
  • El principal causante de la mala circulación es la arterioesclerosis. The main cause of poor circulation is atherosclerosis.
  • No estoy preparado para escuchar las malas noticias. I'm not prepared to hear the bad news.
  • Son los jugadores más malos de la galaxia. They're the worst players in the galaxy.
  • Los superhéroes son un mal ejemplo para los adolescentes. Superheroes are a bad example for adolescents.

Common translations for mal as an adverb include "badly" and "poorly," although others can be used as well to fit the context:

  • Nadaron mal en el mundial. They swam poorly in the world competition.
  • Nuestro equipo estaba mal preparado. Our team was poorly prepared.
  • Nuestros hijos comen mal. Our children eat badly.
  • Muchos pacientes están mal diagnosticados. Many patients are incorrectly diagnosed.
  • Mi bebe duerme mal durante la noche. My baby sleeps poorly at night.
  • Estudiamos mal la historia de otros países. We do a poor job of studying the history of other countries.

Note that sometimes mal functions as an adverb in Spanish, such as with estar, but can be translated as an adjective in English:

  • Algo huele mal en mi casa. Something smells bad in my house.
  • Me parece mal que no vengan todos. I feel bad (or it seems bad to me) that not everyone is coming.
  • La ciudad no está mal, pero hay mucho desempleo. The city isn't bad, but there's much joblessness.

Especially when used with estar, mal sometimes means "sick" or "ill": Hoy yo y mi familia estamos mal. My family and I are sick today.

Mal- is also a prefix that typically means "bad" or "undesirable."

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