A Michael addition is usually taken as a base-catalysed reaction. However, our synthesized 2-(quinolin-2-ylmethylene) malonic acid (QMA) as a Michael-type thiol fluorescent probe is acid-active in its sensing reaction. In this work, based on theoretic calculation and experi-mental study on 7-hydroxy-2-(quinolin-2-ylmethylene) malonic acid, we demonstrated that QMA as a Michael acceptor is acid-activatable, i.e., it works only in solutions at pH<7, and the lower the pH of solutions is, the higher reactivity QMA has. In alkaline solution, the malonate QMA[-2H+]2- cannot react with both RS- and RSH. In contrast, 2-(quinolin-2-ylmethylene) malonic ester (QME), the ester of QMA, reveal a contrary pH effect on its sensing reaction, that is, it can sense thiols in alkaline solutions but not in acidic solutions, like a normal base-catalysed Michael addition. The values of activation enthalpies from theoretic calculation support the above sensing behavior of two probes under different pH conditions. In acidic solutions, the protonated QMA is more highly reactive towards elec-trophilic attack over its other ionized states in neutral and alkaline solutions, and so can react with lowly reactive RSH. In contrast, there is a big energy barrier in the interaction of QME with RSH (acidic solutions), and the reaction of QME with the highly reactive nucle-ophile RS- is a low activation energy process (in alkaline solutions). Theoretic calculation reveals that the sensing reaction of QMA undergoes a 1,4-addition process with neutral thiols (RSH), and a 1,2-addition pathway for the sensing reaction of QME with RS-. Therefore, the sensing reaction of QMA is an acid-catalysed Michael addition via a 1,4-addition, and a normal base-catalysed Michael addition via a 1,2-addition.