Italian Word of the Day: A malapena (barely / just about)

The adverbial phrase a malapena means barely, scarcely, hardly, just about or only just in English.

/ma·la·pé·na/

In both languages, these expressions often (albeit not always) imply some degree of hardship or difficulty.

Il paziente con la bronchite riesce a malapena a respirare.

The patient with bronchitis is hardly able to breathe.
The patient with bronchitis is scarcely able to breathe.


It is the union of two words: malo/a (an ancient adjective meaning bad, often seen in its truncated form mal in modern Italian) and pena (pain, suffering).

Senza gli occhiali, vedo a malapena la scritta sul cartello.

Without my glasses, I can barely see the writing on the sign.
Without my glasses, I can only just see the writing on the sign.


Girl walking with crutches in ward of hospital
Riesce a malapena a camminare, figuriamoci a correre. She is barely able to walk, let alone run.

Important: The word malapena is always accompanied by the preposition a (to).

Some possible Italian synonyms for a malapena include a stento (with difficulty, just about) and a fatica (with difficulty).

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