Using 'Malo,' 'Mal' and Related Words in Spanish

The Many Forms of Mal as an Adjective, Adverb and Noun

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.). Jorge Mejía Peralta/Flickr

Malo is a common Spanish adjective meaning "bad" or in some way undesirable. The translation can vary depending on context. Its feminine form is mala, and through the process of apocopation, which is shortening, it can become mal when it comes before a singular masculine noun.

Its usual adverb form is mal, although the another related adverb form, malamente, can be used to mean "badly."

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.

Mal- is also a prefix that typically means "bad" or "undesirable." An example of that would be maleducado, which means "impolite," as "someone who didn't learn their manners."

Mal, Malo, Mala, Malos and Malas Used as Adjectives

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

Mal Used as an Adverb

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

Spanish Sentence English Translation
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 poorly.
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 bad job of studying the history of other countries.

Mal as an Adjective and Adverb at the Same Time

Sometimes mal functions as an adverb in Spanish, such as with estar, but in English may be translated as an adjective. 

Spanish Sentence English Translation
Algo huele mal en mi casa. Something smells bad in my house.
Me parece mal que no vengan todos. I feel bad that not everyone is coming.
La ciudad no está mal, pero hay mucho desempleo. The city isn't bad, but there is much unemployment.

Mal as a Noun

Especially when used with estar, mal sometimes means "sick" or "ill." Hoy yo y mi familia estamos mal, which means, "My family and I are sick today." This sentence can also be translated to mean literally and colloquially understood as "feeling sick" as in, "My family and I feel poorly today."

Mal can also be translated to mean "evil." In this case, it would need the definite article "the," literally translating to "the bad," which is the Spanish way of saying "evil."

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Your Citation
Erichsen, Gerald. "Using 'Malo,' 'Mal' and Related Words in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Using 'Malo,' 'Mal' and Related Words in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using 'Malo,' 'Mal' and Related Words in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).