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'Bad' or 'Badly'?

“I feel bad.” “I feel badly.” Which is it?

By
Marcia Riefer Johnston, read by Mignon Fogarty,
September 15, 2017
Episode #586

Page 1 of 3

If you’re unhappy or sick, you feel bad, not badly. To feel badly would be to stink at feeling things. Rarely does anyone intend to convey that kind of ineptitude. Yet people pair “feel” with “badly” all the time. It’s not unusual to hear things like this:

  • “The babysitter felt badly that the washing machine flooded the basement.”
  • “Squiggly feels badly about the score of the big game.”
  • “Aardvark is going to feel badly when no one shows up at the birthday party.”

In fact, in all these sentences, the subject felt, feels, or will feel not badly but bad. This is how to write these sentences correctly: 

  • “The babysitter felt bad that the washing machine flooded the basement.”
  • “Squiggly feels bad about the score of the big game.”
  • “Aardvark is going to feel bad when no one shows up at the birthday party.”

In short, say “feel bad,” not “feel badly.”

feel bad or feel badly

Why People Say ‘Feel Badly’

It’s understandable that people want to tack on the “ly.” “Feel” is a verb, after all, and people are often taught that verbs are modified by adverbs. “Badly,” with its telltale “ly” suffix, is conspicuously an adverb. So “feel” would seem to cry out for “badly.”

How can “bad”—an adjective—modify “feel,” you might wonder? 

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