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Confusing Word Pairs in German

schlecht • schlimm

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Confusing Words > Confusing Pairs > schlecht - schlimm

  schlecht Das kann man schlecht machen.
One can't very well do that.
Mir ist schlecht.
I feel ill/sick.
Er verdient ziemlich schlecht.
He's poorly paid.
Sie haben schlecht über ihn geredet.
They spoke ill of him.
Sie sieht schlecht aus.
She looks bad/ill.
Er hat schlechte Noten.
He has bad grades.
  schlimm Es ist alles nur halb so schlimm
It's really not as bad as all that.
Das ist schlimm für mich.
That is serious for me.
Im schlimmsten Fall müssen wir...
In the worst case, we'll have to...
Er ist schlimm daran.
He's in a bad way./He's in horrible shape.
Er ist ein ganz schlimmer Typ.
He's a really bad character.
Es wurde immer schlimmer.
It just kept getting worse and worse.

Once again, this is an example of two German words that mean almost the same thing in English, but not exactly. Here are some guidelines to help you decide when to use schlecht and when to use schlimm:

In general, schlimm (nasty, bad, wicked) is worse than schlecht (poor, not good). The adjective/adverb schlecht (the opposite of gut) is applied to things that could possibly be made better, while schlimm carries an implication of something that is inherently bad and can't be made good. As a result, schlecht is more often applied to concrete things ("bad/poor eyes" = schlechte Augen) and things of poor quality or that have gone bad (die Milch ist schlecht = the milk's gone bad). Schlimm is usually more abstract and can also mean "grave" or "serious." Also in that sense, schlimm means "injured," "sore" or "infected": Er hat einen schlimmen Finger. (He has a sore/bad finger.)

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