September 10, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: bad or badly

Posted in bad or badly at 6:44 am by dlseltzer

A while back, I read this:

“ …Kenya was in the midst of a huge drought. After Sammy ate a huge chicken dinner one day out here in California, he told me he thought about posting it on Facebook. He didn’t, though, because of his worries about making his friends back home feel badly. This tiny incident bowled me over.”

I would credit this quote, but I have absolutely no recollection of the source. Actually, that’s probably for the best because I’m using it as an example of what NOT to write or say. I’m talking, of course, about is the use of ‘badly’ instead of ‘bad’ when Sammy mentioned “his worries about making his friends back home feel badly.” Aaargh. This tiny error bowled ME over!

So what’s the problem? Badly is an adverb, right? And adverbs modify verbs, right? And feel is a verb, right? So what’s the problem?

Well, this is it. Action verbs call for adverbs, and verbs that don’t involve action but refer to a state of being call for adjectives.

When feel is used as an action verb, that is, a verb expressing something happening, then it is used with an adverb (badly). For example:

With these gloves on, I can’t make out the texture of this fabric: I feel badly.

In this sentence, we are taking about the action of sensing something through touch, and the inability to do so, thus, feeling badly.

When feel refers to a state of being, then it is used with an adjective (bad). For example:

I think that it is so sad that the baseball team lost again: I feel bad.

In this sentence, we are not talking about an action; we are talking about an emotion—a state of being, thus, feeling bad or feeling sad or feeling unhappy.

[NOTE: as you know, in the wlut, I try not to use a lot of grammatical terms to explain language usage. Sometimes, it’s really hard. That makes me feel bad.]

The last time I wrote about this was way back in 2008 (2008! Can you believe it?), and then, I used an example that was pretty straightforward, if a tad indelicate, and I’m going to use it again, but don’t worry I am going to provide the citation. It’s .

[An aside on self-plagiarism: self-plagiarism involves re-using one’s own work without citation. On the face of it, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s a real thing and is considered unethical and not meeting the standards of the responsible conduct of research. You should avoid it.]

The example I used is this: I smell bad, and I smell badly. The former means I stink. The latter means that my sense of smell is impaired, as in this example:

I’ve had a cold for a couple of weeks, and now, I can’t smell anything: I smell badly.

And that’s it.

[By the way, unless I run into something really egregious, I am going to publish the wlut every other week instead of every week—I am retired after all.]

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