Categories: French Vocabulary

Mal vs Mauvais: Bad

Mal vs Mauvais: Bad

Both can be in French Adjectives, Adverbs and Nouns and mean bad in English but their meaning in French is different.

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1 Mal is mostly used as an adverb, Mauvais (e) as an adjective

 He is a bad boy, bad is an adjective related to boy, so in French we use “mauvais”

C’est un mauvais garçon

It is a bad idea, again mauvaise (feminine, idée in French)
C’est une mauvaise idée

The sea is bad: la mer est mauvaise

I feel bad, how do you feel? bad, so bad is here an adverb and in French it is “mal”
Je me sens mal

Usualy in English the adverb is badly, but as you can see, not all the times

I slept badly: J’ai mal dormi

 Both:

He works badly: il travaille mal
His work is bad: son travail est mauvais

He speaks poor or bad English: il parle mal anglais
His English is bad: son anglais est mauvais.

 

2.Problem

How to translate “it is bad”, it depends on the meaning

If you want to say that something is morally or legally wrong or bad, we use “mal”.
It is bad to lie: c’est mal de mentir

If you want to say that it is bad for your health, something dangerous, we use “mauvais”.
It is bad for your health: c’est mauvais pour la santé

 

Mauvais:

Health: it is bad to eat only canned foods: c’est mauvais de ne manger que des conserves

Nasty and sad: he is a bad boy, it’s bad news: c’est une mauvaise nouvelle

Taste: it is not bad: ce n’est pas mauvais

Lessons, school, wrong: it is bad or it is wrong: c’est mauvais, he is bad at French: il est mauvais en français.

Mal:

Not moral: it is bad to steal: c’est mal de voler

Badly, poorly, wrongly: he works badly or poorly: il travaille mal

 

Pay attention to idiomatic expressions
It is bad manners: c’est mal élevé or ce sont de mauvaises manières

 

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Pascal Dherve

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