At the Root of It All : “mal-“

In today’s ‘At the Root of It All’ , we will be exploring the┬áLatin root word “mal”.

mal: from the Latin word male (adv.) “badly,” or malus (adj.) “bad, evil”

If you see this root as part of a word, then it means that something is ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. This double definition is the interesting part, because something can be bad without being evil, though something is rarely evil without being bad. Due to this, you end up with two categories of words that contain this root. For example, malice is evil intent, while malaria is a disease that was believed to be contracted from bad air.

So, what are some other words contain this root? Well, if you have a malady, you are suffering from a ‘bad’ condition or illness. A doctor being accused of malpractice has shown misconduct or negligent practice. If your computer is failing to function properly, it is malfunctioning, or maybe it has malware, an evil software trying to damage it. A malignant tumor is evil for your body because it is cancerous, or even a person can be malignant towards you.

Authors do a wonderful job of using this root to indicate that a character is going to be evil or be the antagonist. For example, Shakespeare had a character named Malvolio from Twelfth Night. But do you recognize these two more recent pop culture examples?


Draco Malfoy is the antagonist from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series


Maleficent is the antagonist of Walt Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty.

What words with ‘mal-‘ do you like?



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