When to Use Mal, Malo, Bien, and Bueno

Every once a while during your Spanish learning career, you stumble upon random concepts that take a bit to settle into a place of understanding in your head. For me recently, that was the different between mal and malo/a and bien and buen and bueno/a and why are all these words so similar yet clearly have their own reasons for existing.

I’ll start with mal and malo/a, since that’s what started my dive into this adjective/adverb nonsense.

Which is which? Well, malo/a is an adjective. Mal is an adverb (when it’s not a noun, but that’s besides the point right now).

Wait…what?

Adjectives describe nouns.

Adverbs describe verbs.

So, when you want to say “I feel bad”, you need an adverb to describe the verb (to feel). Therefore, you get:


Me siento mal


If you say “the food is bad”, this time you need an adjective to describe the noun (the food). So this time we get:


La comida está mala


Then we can get into the whole shtick about using adjectives before or after nouns, but that one’s for another day.

Now, what about bien and bueno/a (we’ll save buen for that next post about adjectives)?

This one’s a little bit easier, because these words actually have different translations. Bien translates to well (adverb), while bueno/a translates to good (adjective). So, if you’re into English grammar, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to which one to use when.

If you’re not, let’s use the same examples so you can see the adverb/adjective concept.

“I feel well”. Again, using an adverb to describe the verb ‘to feel’, we get:


Me siento bien


“The food is bad”. Here we need an adjective to describe the noun “food”, so we say: 


La comida está buena 


(carrying the feminine quality of comida to buena, of course).

Make sense? While you’re learning, it’ll take some thinking about what you’re talking about, whether it’s a noun or a verb or an adjective or an adverb. Don’t worry though, after a while, you won’t even realize you’re doing it.

Confused? Need a clarification? Absolutely lost? Let me know in the comments!

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