‘Mal tercio’ – Meaning / In English

In short – ‘Mal tercio’ is the equivalent of the English expression ‘third wheel’. It describes a situation in which there’s a romantic couple and a third (potentially unwanted) person.

The phrase ‘mal tercio’ literally translates to ‘bad third’,which is surprisingly similar to the expression ‘third wheel’ in English.

Unlike in English, ‘mal tercio’ is often used with the verb ‘hacer’ (or ‘to do’). The resulting phrase, ‘hacer mal tercio’, best translates as ‘to be the third wheel’.

WARNING: If you happen to be that person, your presence *may* be unwelcome and you’ll almost certainly feel a little uncomfortable.

Pablo – ¿Puedo ir con ustedes a la fiesta?  

Daniel – Te vamos a conseguir una novia; siempre haces mal tercio.

Paul – Can I tag along for the party?

Daniel – We’re gonna get you a girlfriend; you’re always the third wheel.

Saúl – No vayas a hacer mal tercio en la cita de tu amigo ¿eh?

Tom – No te preocupes, iré con mi novia.

Saul – Don’t be the third wheel on your friend’s date, ok?

Tom Don’t worry, I’ll go with my girlfriend.

Uses / Meanings of ‘mal tercio

‘Mal tercio’ can be used in the following ways –

  • As a synonym of ‘third wheel’.
  • As a way of saying that a person is unwelcome in a given situation. 

As a synonym of ‘third wheel

‘Mal tercio’ is used pretty much the same way as ‘third wheel’ in English.

If you suddenly get the feeling that you’re ‘haciendo mal tercio’ (or ‘being the third wheel’),chances are that you are (author looks suggestively at exit …)!

Paulina – Quiero ir a la boda de Romina con mi novio y mi mejor amiga.

Roman — No lo sé, ¿no crees que tu amiga haría mal tercio?

Paulina — I want to go to Romina’s wedding with my boyfriend and my best friend.

Roman — I dunno, don’t you think your friend’s gonna feel like a third wheel?

Sara – ¿Por qué te fuiste a mitad de la película?

Ambar – No quise hacer mal tercio.

Sara – Why did you leave in the middle of the movie?

Ambar – I didn’t want to be the third wheel.

Tania – Fui al concierto con mi novia pero me encontré a mi hermano. Nunca nos dejó a solas.

Javier – ¿Qué onda* con tu hermano? Haciéndola de mal tercio, como siempre.

Tanian – I went to the concert with my girlfriend, but I ran into my brother. He didn´t leave us alone even for a minute.

Xavier – What’s up with your brother? Sounds like he was the third wheel as usual.

*Erika’s note – ‘qué onda’ is a very common expression in Mexico. It’s akin to ‘what’s up’ but has a variety of other meanings as well.

As a way of saying that a person is unwelcome in a given situation

In rare cases you can also use this expression to describe someone who’s unwelcome in a given situation.

Me fui de la reunión familiar. Siempre siento como que soy* el mal tercio de mis primas.

I left the family get together. My cousins always make me feel unwelcome.

No sé si hice mal tercio pero Clara y Adri se quedaron calladas cuando llegué a la mesa. Son mejores amigas y siempre comen solas.

I don’t know if I was unwelcome, but Clara and Adri went quiet when I sat at the table. They’re best friends and always eat together.

*Erika’s note – note that ‘soy’ (from the verb ‘ser’) is used in this example as it’s referring to a more “permanent” characteristic. Be sure to check out our article on soy’ vs ‘estoy if you wanna find out more!

Mal tercio’ pronunciation

‘Mal ’ sounds like mahl, and ‘tercio’ is said like tehr-syoh’.

Make sure you stress the first syllable of ‘ter-cio’ to sound even more native!

/ mahl  tehr-syoh /

Final thoughts

As you can see, ‘hacer mal tercio’ is a rather innocent colloquial expression.

It can be a really useful – although hardly subtle – way to let someone know that you’d rather be alone with your significant other.

Wanna learn more interesting phrases in Spanish?

Well, I bet you don’t know what it means when someone tells you, ni al caso

¡Hasta pronto! 

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