French Lessons


Pas Mal: Not Bad and Quite a Bit

The phrase pas mal literally means "not bad," and like its English counterpart, it's often used to express an assessment of something: 


La nourriture à ce restaurant n'est pas mal.
The food at that restaurant isn't bad


C'est pas mal déjà! 
That's not bad at all! [or: That's pretty good!]
Cap. 21, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1


But just as often, pas mal is used not as a qualitative assessment, but a quantitative one. Take a look at this example from our video on Paris's Rue des Martyrs:


Y a pas mal de bars dans la rue.
There are quite a few bars on the street.
Cap. 42, Adrien: Rue des Martyrs


Adrien isn't saying that the bars on the street "aren't bad." If he were, he might have said something like, Les bars dans la rue ne sont pas malInstead, he uses pas mal to indicate that there are "quite a few" bars on the street. When followed by de (of) plus a noun, pas mal can mean anything along the lines of "quite a few," "quite a bit," or "quite a lot":


C'est quelque chose qui est très important pour nous depuis pas mal de temps.
This is something that has been very important to us for quite a bit of time.
Cap. 18, Alsace 20: Grain de Sel - le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?


When pas mal comes before an adjective, it means "a lot" or "pretty":


Ben c'est sûr que... c'est pas mal plus naturel.
Well, for sure... that's a lot more natural.
Cap. 46, Bateau sport 100% électrique: Le Nautique 196 E


Ce livre est pas mal intéressant.
This book is pretty interesting.


And when referring to a verb, it means "really" or, again, "quite a bit/a lot":


J'essaie de rechercher pas mal le son.
I'm trying to really research the sound [or: I'm trying to research the sound quite a bit].
Cap. 12, Phil Cambron: Ses révélations   


Here's an example sentence that contains both senses of pas mal:


Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies, et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.
Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells, and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.
Cap. 9-10, Alsace 20: Météo des Maquilleurs


But be careful: just because you see the words pas and mal next to each other doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with the expression pas mal. Namely, when a verb phrase with mal (such as faire mal [to hurt] or le prendre mal [to take it the wrong way]) is negated, the pas mal portion doesn't mean "not bad" or "quite a bit"—it's just part of the negation:


Ça fait pas mal? -Non, non.
It doesn't hurt? -No, no. 
Cap. 16, Cap 24: Rasage et Epilation du Visage - Alessandro Di Sarno teste!


Ne le prends pas mal. 
Don't take it the wrong way


Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to


You May Also Like