Being Bad in Portuguese

Good and Bad can be confusing in Portuguese, so I thought I’d lay it all out for anyone wishing to understand the differences. I’m going to lead with ‘bad’.

Bad (mau) is an adjective that means “the opposite of good (bom)”. For ex., mau comportamento (bad behavior), mau patrão (bad employer), mau caráter (bad character). Keep in mind though mau is masculine while is feminine. Likewise, the feminine of bom is boa.

Mau vs. Bom
Má vs. Boa

Bad (mal) is an adverb of mode, contrary to “good (bem)”. It must be employed together with the verb or adjective. For ex, mal-estar (uneasiness), mal-educado (badly educated/behaved), etc.

Mal vs. Bem

Hope that helps!

7 thoughts on “Being Bad in Portuguese

  1. hello
    I just wanted to point out that in Portuguese they also use the word “ruim” quite a lot to say “bad”, for instance:
    Meu pc esta ruim
    A ligacao esta muito ruim.
    I can’t really tell you though whether ruim and mal are interchangeable in these cases. Maybe a native speaker could help us out?

    • You are correct, Peter. Ruim is bad also, but I tend to think of it as really bad although that’s just my interpretation. For the post though, I just wanted to focus on the grammar of the words I included because they are the most confusing.


  2. “mal educado” probably also means bad-mannered/behaved, like a rude person. I suppose sometimes education and manners/etiquette overlap…

  3. Those are great observations. In Brazil, when we say that a person is mal-educada, we mean that he/she has bad manners.

    Ruim is an adjective; it is the same as mau, the opposite of bom or boa. Ruim has only one form to both masculine or feminine.
    A comida está boa – A comida está ruim.
    O café está bom – O café está ruim.

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