mal·​ice ˈma-ləs How to pronounce malice (audio)
: desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another
an attack motivated by pure malice
: intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse
ruined her reputation and did it with malice
see also malice aforethought

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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.

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of malice in a Sentence

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 Trudeau, Time, 12 Feb. 2001
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 Haskell, New York Times Book Review, 12 June 1988
It isn't so much courage that I would need, as the patience to endure the grinding malice of bureaucratic harassment. Alice Walker, Living by the Word, 1981
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 Jackson, 1946
an attack motivated by pure malice She claimed that her criticisms were without malice.
Recent Examples on the Web Advertisement James Spertus, Grossman’s new lead attorney, who was hired after her conviction, argued there was no evidence presented at trial to support implied malice, which is needed for the murder charges. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, 3 June 2024 An Athens-Clarke County judge entered a plea of not guilty for Jose Ibarra, 26, following his indictment earlier this month on malice murder and felony murder and other offenses. Meredith Deliso, ABC News, 31 May 2024 Miss Manners would rather attribute the mistake to benign ignorance than willful malice. Judith Martin, The Mercury News, 25 May 2024 On May 8, the sheriff’s office received warrants to arrest four men, who were each indicted on three counts of malice murder, according to the statement. Liam Quinn, Peoplemag, 14 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for malice 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'malice.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of malice was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near malice

Cite this Entry

“Malice.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


mal·​ice ˈmal-əs How to pronounce malice (audio)
: ill will
especially : the intention of doing harm for the satisfaction of doing it

Legal Definition


mal·​ice ˈma-ləs How to pronounce malice (audio)
: 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
: wanton disregard for the rights of others or for the value of human life
: an improper or evil motive or purpose
if malice cannot be proved or a benign purpose can be imaginedDavid Kairys
: actual malice in this entry
actual malice
: 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 sense 2

called also express malice, malice in fact

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 aforethoughtCalifornia Penal Code
malice in fact
: actual malice in this entry
malice in law
: implied malice in this entry
: 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.

More from Merriam-Webster on malice

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