How Do You Feel: Bad or Badly?

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It depends. If your fingertips are worn to nubs, chances are you feel badly. You have a bad sense of touch.

But if you have a monster headache and a fever of 102˚, you feel bad. Really bad.

Just as people think I is a classier pronoun than me (it isn’t), they often think badly is more elegant than bad. (It isn’t.)

Let’s talk about body odor for a minute. I think it will make this distinction more clear. Would you rather smell bad or smell badly?

If you go camping for two weeks during the hot summer and are never able to find a shower or even a stream to bathe in, chances are when you get home, you will smell really bad. In fact, you may reek.

But let’s say you have a terrible cold and cannot breathe through your nose. Someone blindfolds you and asks you to smell two things: a rose and an ancient, dirty sneaker. You inhale deeply and try to identify each item. In fact, you can’t smell anything. The rose and the sneaker transmit no scent to your nose. You smell badly. Very badly.

If smelling badly defines your sense of smell, feeling badly describes your sense of touch. If you need a bath, you smell bad, and if you experience sadness or illness, you feel bad.

Questions? Let me know.

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4 Comments

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

4 responses to “How Do You Feel: Bad or Badly?

  1. Kathy Sandel

    How about “I feel bad/badly about Jane and Jim’s breakup. It modifies a verb, so shouldn’t it contain the ly? Yet it does not feel correct. And then what about that last “feel” statement…..? >

    • Kathy, as i wrote in the post, if you’re experiencing sadness, you feel bad. In this case, “bad” doesn’t modify “feel.” It describes you and your emotions. It modifies the “I.” Weird, right? Remember, I don’t make the rules. And if, over time, enough people use “badly” to describe how they feel about a sad or bad situation, it will become standard English. Just hang in there.

      You always have such good comments. Keep them coming.

  2. I think most people believe that badly is the way to go, and I see people cringe a little when I say “I feel bad,” because I know they think they are right and I’m saying it wrong! Oh well…

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