Are you ready to add another interesting word to your French vocabulary? This week, we’re looking at mal.
To hear how to pronounce it, check out the audio clip below:
This word is important to know because it appears in lots of common expressions and everyday conversations. When it comes to translating mal, it differs slightly depending on the context and grammar, but generally translates as bad, badly, wrong, ill, or something similar.
Mal has different types of grammatical functions – it can be an adverb, adjective, or noun. While the translation doesn’t usually change that much in each case, you use it in different ways within a sentence.
We’ll begin with the adverb usage: here, you’ll always find mal connected to a verb or adjective:
mal fait badly done
aller mal to be going badly
« Tu vas bien ? » « Non je vais mal. » “Are you feeling OK?” “No, I’m poorly.”
pas mal not badly; quite well
« Comment ça va ? » « Pas mal du tout, merci. » “How are you?” “Pretty well, thanks.”
pas mal de quite a lot of
Il y a pas mal de restaurants au centre-ville. There are quite a lot of restaurants in the city centre.
C’est dommage que ces infirmiers soient si mal payés. It’s a shame that these nurses are so poorly paid.
Si vous vous comportez mal, il y aura des conséquences. If you all behave badly, there will be consequences.
Nous avons mal compris les règles du jeu. We misunderstood the rules of the game.
If you’d like to do some extra learning on adverbs, find out more about mal by reading our Easy Learning French Grammar page on irregular comparative and superlative adverbs.
Now it’s time to look at mal as an adjective. Unlike most French adjectives, you do not need to change the spelling for adjectival agreement. As their forms never change, we call words like mal invariable adjectives.
You can see this in action in the following examples:
c’est mal de faire… it’s bad to do…
Ce serait mal de voir mon ex-mari à la fête. It would be bad to see my ex-husband at the party.
pas mal quite good; pretty good; not bad
Elle est pas mal cette pizza. This pizza is quite good.
Je suis innocent ! Je n’ai rien fait de mal. I’m innocent! I didn’t do anything wrong.
We’ve got one more set of examples left to cover, where mal acts as a masculine noun:
avoir du mal à faire quelque chose to find it difficult to do something; to have difficulty doing something
Nicole voulait m’apprendre l’espagnol, mais j’ai eu du mal à le comprendre. Nicole wanted to teach me Spanish, but I found it difficult to understand.
faire du mal à quelqu’un to hurt someone; to do someone harm
avoir le mal du pays to be homesick
le mal de mer sea sickness
le mal des transports travel sickness
avoir mal to be in pain; to be hurting
Elle a mal à la gorge / aux dents / au dos / à l’oreille. She has a sore throat / toothache / sore back / earache.
Keep up your French learning – remember it’s ok to make mistakes and get things wrong from time to time, it’s all part of the process! See you next week for more French vocabulary insights.
Written by Holly Tarbet, freelance copywriter and editor.
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