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

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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

Example Sentences

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Chiropractor Scott Shephard was awarded $232,500 during a jury trial last year in a case that ended without any punitive damages, which are awarded when a jury finds evidence of malice or reckless indifference. oregonlive, 17 Oct. 2022 Lawyers for Infowars countered that Fontaine failed to show any evidence of malice or any injury because of his photo's publication. CBS News, 30 Sep. 2022 Lawyers for Infowars countered that Fontaine failed to show any evidence of malice or any injury because of his photo’s publication. Fox News, 30 Sep. 2022 The document, submitted to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, also argues that Depp did not present evidence of actual malice or defamation. Jessica Wang,, 4 July 2022 Hopkins is fantastic as the stubborn Pope at the height of scandal, meandering from moments of real malice to unexpected humanity. Robert English,, 10 Nov. 2022 Since most news outlets tend to strive to get the facts right, Lidsky said most errors tend to come from negligence, not actual malice. Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY, 25 Oct. 2022 Ragsdale won his case; the Alabama law was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court, and the actual-malice standard was enforced. Charles Bethea, The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2022 Most importantly, however, Singhal also found that Dershowitz had overcome the actual-malice hurdle, at least at this stage of the case. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 6 Oct. 2022 See More

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.

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 1 Dec. 2022.

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 imagined David 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 aforethought California 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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