The first thing that comes to mind is:

Das Essen schmeckt schlecht.

But I don't think that's exactly right, because the translation from "schmecken" would be "to savor", which is always associated with good taste.

  • 1
    The german verb schmecken serves for both, the active and passive form. Aug 19, 2020 at 21:04
  • 2
    @πάνταῥεῖ You mean the transitive and intransitive form, right? Morphologically and syntactically, both Das Essen schmeckt schlecht and Sie schmecken die Orangennote (heraus) feature the Aktiv. The actual passive, however, is only possible for the transitive form: Die Orangennote wurde herausgeschmeckt. Aug 19, 2020 at 21:33
  • Die Gewürde im Essen wurden schlecht geschmeckt, is also possible to say, albeit cumbersome. Aug 19, 2020 at 21:40
  • @amadeusamadeus Yes, that's what I meant. Aug 20, 2020 at 6:43
  • @inifinitezero That would still be the transitive form: Man schmeckte die Gewürze <> Die Gewürze wurden geschmeckt. Aug 20, 2020 at 14:51

2 Answers 2


„Das Essen schmeckt schlecht“ is absolutely correct and probably the most common way a native speaker would express the thought.

Intransitive schmecken describes the taste of something; you can also say:

  • Das Essen schmeckt scheußlich. – The food tastes awful.
  • Das Steak schmeckt wie Gummi. – The steak tastes like rubber.
  • Der Kuchen schmeckt wie selbstgemacht. – The cake tastes like it's homemade.

And then there is schmecken nach which means “taste of,” like so:

  • Die Kekse schmecken nach Zimt. – The cookies taste of cinnamon.
  • Das Steak schmeckt nach Gummi. – The steak tastes of rubber.
  • Das Essen schmeckt nach nichts. – The food tastes of nothing, bland.
  • Küsse, die schmecken nach See, nach Salz und Teer.Kisses that taste of the sea, of salt and tar.

It is true that intransitive schmecken without any qualifier means “taste good” (or at least acceptable!). Therefore you have:

  • Schmeckt's? – Does it taste good? (Infamous question presumably asked by annoying waiters, though in reality they tend to say Alles in Ordnung?)
  • Das Essen schmeckt nicht. – The food does not taste good. (That is to say, it tastes bad.)

Bonus fact: Riechen (to smell) has the same duality of a transitive and intransitive use; plus, it can also be used with nach just like schmecken. Except that without any qualifiers, it does not mean “smell good,” quite on the contrary: Das Essen riecht is not a compliment.

  • A great, comprehensive answer. Aug 20, 2020 at 14:52

You claim that the translation of "schmecken" is "to savor". This is in fact a possible meaning, but the standard translation is "to taste". Therefore it is absolutely correct to translate "something tastes bad" by "etwas schmeckt schlecht".

Nevertheless there is some truth in you assertion that schmecken is associated with good taste. Saying something like

Das Essen schmeckt

Das Essen schmeckt mir

means that you like the taste. You can emphasize this by saying "Das Essen schmeckt gut" or "Das Essen schmeckt hervorragend", but this is not necessary to make clear that it tastes good. The meaning of the negation

Das Essen schmeckt nicht

Das Essen schmeckt mir nicht

is then clear, but you could also say "Das Essen schmeckt schlecht".

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