The difference between ‘mau’ and ‘mal’

The difference between ‘mau’ and ‘mal’ has always confused people, even Brazilians!
In terms of pronunciation they are identical, it’s when we write that we have to be careful.
The easiest way to decide which one to use is to think about their opposite:
Use ‘mau’ if you can replace the word for the opposite ‘bom’:
O lobo mau está de mau humor. (The bad wolf is in a bad mood)
O lobo bom está de bom humor. (The good wolf is in a good mood)
Use ‘mal’ if you can replace the word for the opposite ‘well’:
Ela está dirigindo mal porque está se sentindo mal. (She is driving badly because she’s feeling badly/poorly)
Opposite: Ela está dirijindo bem porque está se sendindo bem. (She is driving well because she is feeling well)

 Expressions with ‘mal’

de mau gosto
of bad taste
falar mal de alguém 
to speak evil of somebody
de mau humor
ill tempered
fazer mal
to do harm; to disagree (food)
estar em mau estado 
to be in a poor condition.
fazer por mal 
to do it out of spite.
estar em maus lençóis
to be in a bad way 
há males que vêm para bem  
there are bad things that come for the good
mau caráter
bad character
ir mal
to go badly or wrong
mau cheiro
bad smell
levar alguma coisa a mal 
to be offended at something.
mau motorista
bad driver
ill-mannered; rude
mau jeito
wrick, strain
não faz mal 
it doesn’t matter
mau negócio
bad bargain
por bem ou por mal
 by hook or by crook
mau pagador
bad payer
estar de mal com alguém 
to fall out with someone
maus modos
bad manners
tomar por mal
 to take offense
mau tempo
bad weather
mau trato
ser mau
to  be bad, evil
ter mau coração
to be hardhearted

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