noun mal·ice \ ˈma-ləs \
|Updated on: 10 Jul 2018

Definition of malice

1 : desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another
  • an attack motivated by pure malice
2 : intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse
  • ruined her reputation and did it with malice

Examples of malice in a Sentence

  1. All of this is about control, of course. While nicknames can just as easily be dispensed with affection as with malice, either way the practice is as stone alpha male as social interaction gets. —Garry TrudeauTime12 Feb. 2001
  2. The killer that Capote himself became—far more efficiently than Perry and Dick—when, in poisonous prose and on talk-shows, he laid waste his friends and skewered his competitors with malice as pure as the air in an oxygen tent. —Molly HaskellNew York Times Book Review12 June 1988
  3. It isn't so much courage that I would need, as the patience to endure the grinding malice of bureaucratic harassment. —Alice WalkerLiving by the Word1981
  4. No doubt his natural floridity of face encouraged whispers, and partisan malice exaggerated them; but during the eighteen-thirties he certainly drank enough to invite the solicitude of his friends and the gibes of his enemies. —Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.The Age of Jackson1946
  5. an attack motivated by pure malice

  6. She claimed that her criticisms were without malice.

Recent Examples of malice from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'malice.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

malicious, malevolent, and malice

Malicious and malevolent are close in meaning, since both refer to ill will that desires to see someone else suffer. But while malevolent suggests deep and lasting dislike, malicious usually means petty and spiteful. Malicious gossipers are often simply envious of a neighbor's good fortune. Vandals may take malicious pleasure in destroying and defacing property but usually don't truly hate the owners. Malice is an important legal concept, which has to be proved in order to convict someone of certain crimes such as first-degree murder.

Origin and Etymology of malice

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin malitia, from malus bad

Synonym Discussion of malice

malice, malevolence, ill will, spite, malignity, spleen, grudge mean the desire to see another experience pain, injury, or distress. malice implies a deep-seated often unexplainable desire to see another suffer.
    • felt no malice toward their former enemies
malevolence suggests a bitter persistent hatred that is likely to be expressed in malicious conduct.
    • a look of dark malevolence
ill will implies a feeling of antipathy of limited duration.
    • ill will provoked by a careless remark
spite implies petty feelings of envy and resentment that are often expressed in small harassments.
    • petty insults inspired by spite
malignity implies deep passion and relentlessness.
    • a life consumed by motiveless malignity
spleen suggests the wrathful release of latent spite or persistent malice.
    • venting his spleen against politicians
grudge implies a harbored feeling of resentment or ill will that seeks satisfaction.
    • never one to harbor a grudge

MALICE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of malice for English Language Learners

  • : a desire to cause harm to another person

MALICE Defined for Kids


noun mal·ice \ ˈma-ləs \

Definition of malice for Students

: a desire to cause harm to another person

Law Dictionary


noun mal·ice \ ˈma-ləs \

legal Definition of malice

1 a : the intention or desire to cause harm (as death, bodily injury, or property damage) to another through an unlawful or wrongful act without justification or excuse
b : wanton disregard for the rights of others or for the value of human life
c : an improper or evil motive or purpose
  • if malice cannot be proved or a benign purpose can be imagined
  • —David Kairys
d : actual malice in this entry
actual malice
1 : malice proved by evidence to exist or have existed in one that inflicts unjustified harm on another: as
a : an intent to injure or kill
b : malice 2 called also express malice, malice in fact
2 a : the knowledge that defamatory statements especially regarding a public figure are false
implied malice
: malice inferred from the nature or consequences of a harmful act done without justification or excuse; also : malice inferred from subjective awareness of duty or of the likely results of one's act called also legal malice, malice in law
malice aforethought
: actual or implied malice existing in or attributed to the intention of one that injures or especially kills without justification or excuse and usually requiring some degree of deliberation or premeditation or wanton disregard for life
  • murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought
  • California Penal Code
malice in fact
: actual malice in this entry
malice in law
: implied malice in this entry
2 : feelings of ill will, spite, or revenge
Note: Such feelings are usually not an important component of malice in legal consideration unless punitive damages or actual malice is an issue.

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to grant as a privilege or special favor

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