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Bad vs. Badly: Sort Them Out for Good!

Last updated 2 years ago

Which of these sentences is correct?
 

1. I felt really bad when he lost the game.
2. You don't need to feel too bad about that.
3. She was sorry she had written the letter so badly.
 
If you think they are ALL correct, you're right!
 
You’ve probably heard people say, "I feel badly about what I did," thinking "badly" sounds more formal or grammatically correct. They might feel even worse if they knew they were making a common grammar mistake.

  • Bad is an adjective. It modifies nouns and pronouns: He had a bad headache after he saw the bad grade on his test.
     
  • Badly is an adverb. It modifies action verbs and other adverbs: They badly wanted to win the game, but they lost after the pitcher was badly injured.

Problems with BAD and BADLY come when we use linking verbs that express emotion or sensory perceptions but not action. Linking verbs like be, feel, seem, or taste are followed by adjectives rather than adverbs. The one that causes the most confusion is FEEL.
 
Here are two strategies for determining whether to use the adjective BAD or the adverb BADLY when you are expressing a feeling:
 
- Mentally replace the verb FEEL with a form of BE (is, am, or was) to see whether the adjective BAD or adverb BADLY should be used.

            I felt bad/badly when she didn't return my call.

Replace: I was bad/badly when she didn't return my call
You can see at once that the adjective BAD is needed in the original sentence.
 
- Mentally substitute another adjective like sad, wild, or proud for the word BAD in your sentence:

            He probably didn't feel too bad/badly if he spent the money.

Replace: He probably didn't feel too wild/wildly if he spent the money.
Again, you can see that the adjective BAD is needed in the original sentence.
 
Now that you know the difference between BAD and BADLY, test yourself. Then, say what you mean with confidence!
 

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