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Bad vs. Badly

The word bad is an adjective used to modify nouns and pronouns.
Example: She was in a bad accident.

Adverbs often end in ly. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb.
Example: She was hurt badly in the accident.

The confusion comes with four of the sense verbs: taste, look, smell, and feel.
When we use these verbs actively, we should follow them with adverbs. (Hear is always used actively.)
When we use these verbs descriptively, we should follow them with adjectives.
I feel bad about having said that.
I am not feeling with fingers in the above example; I am describing my state of mind, so the adjective is used (no ly).

She feels badly since her fingers were burned.
She feels with her fingers here so the adverb (ly form) is used.

You can use this same rule about sense verbs with adjectives and adverbs other than bad and badly.
The mask over his face made him look suspicious to the police.
He did not look with eyes. Look describes his appearance so the adjective is needed.

She looked suspiciously at the $100 bill.
She looked with eyes so the adverb is needed.

She looked good for someone who never exercised.
She didn’t look with eyes. Good is describing her appearance so the adjective is needed.

He smelled well for someone with a cold.
He is actively smelling with his nose so the adverb is needed.

Rule: Well, although more often an adverb, functions as an adjective when referring to health.
Example: He doesn’t feel well enough today to come to work.


Pop Quiz

1. Please don’t feel bad/badly about forgetting to call me.
2. His face looked bad/badly bruised after being punched.
3. She looked cautious/cautiously at the man ahead of her.
4. She feels cautious/cautiously when walking alone at night.
5. She smelled good/well after spraying perfume on her neck.
6. If you feel good/well enough on Saturday, we hope you will join us for dinner.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Please don’t feel bad about forgetting to call me.
2. His face looked badly bruised after being punched.
3. She looked cautiously at the man ahead of her.
4. She feels cautious when walking alone at night.
5. She smelled good after spraying perfume on her neck.
6. If you feel well enough on Saturday, we hope you will join us for dinner.

Posted on Friday, July 6, 2007, at 2:50 pm

91 Comments on Bad vs. Badly

91 responses to “Bad vs. Badly

  1. Shawn says:


    Thanks for the examples. However, I have one that I’m not sure of.

    “I want money so bad I can taste it.”
    “I want money so badly I can taste it.”

    Which of the two is correct? If my guess is correct, the first sentence should be used as “want” is a state of being/mind (right?).

  2. Mike says:

    Gosh, I am reluctant to mention this, because you are the expert, Jane, and I’m probably about to make a fool of myself. But in the sentence ‘I want money so bad or badly’, I thought ‘want’ was a linking verb (state-of-being verb), and, therefore, the adjective bad must be used. Isn’t the rule that you use adjectives to modify linking verbs and adverbs to modify action verbs?

    Can you help me understand my mistake, please.

    • The word want is not a linking verb. Linking verbs are forms of to be or “sense” verbs such as look, feel, smell, taste, appear, seem, and sound. Adjectives do not modify verbs, but adjectives follow linking verbs and modify the noun that comes after the linking verb.

      I want money so badly.
      The meat tastes bad.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks, Jane. That helps a lot.

      • Robert says:

        I want money so badly.

        This is interesting. I always thought that this would mean that they weren’t very good at wanting money, so I would have used bad.

        • Grammatically speaking, badly is an adverb modifying the verb want. One of the definitions given in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is ” to a great or intense degree .” Likewise,‘s definition is “very much; to a great extent or degree: a house badly in need of repair; to want something badly.”

          There is also an interesting definition of the word bad on It is listed as an “informal” adverb meaning “badly.” The example is “He wanted it bad enough to steal it. ” We would not recommend using it this way in formal writing.

  3. Nancy Grace says:

    How do you know when to use bad and when to use badly?

    • If you want to modify a noun or pronoun, use the adjective bad.
      We had a bad storm.

      If you want to modify a verb that is not a sense verb, use the adverb badly.
      She was hurt badly in the tornado.

      • Jim says:

        In response to Justin, it depends on the definition of the word bad. The original definition of bad is in a negative sense, but using bad in connection with want was more in a Michael Jackson sense as Jane said I believe, intense desire = badly

        • In the Michael Jackson song, the word bad was used as an adjective, as in “I’m bad.” Justin’s argument was that the word want is a linking verb, so using the adjective bad could be justified, making “I want bad” correct.

  4. Justin says:


    I want to tell you so bad that you are wrong. Want is not an action verb… You do not want badly. That would mean your ability to want is flawed, which it is not. The expression “so bad” can be replaced with “to such extent”, in this case he describes a degree of desire, or, more specifically, “want.” Now stop badly helping people.

    • We are unable to find a single authoritative source that lists want as a linking verb. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines badly as “to a great or intense degree .” Obviously, they consider want an action verb rather than a linking or “sense” verb. Bad is also considered acceptable usage as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says, “Bad sometimes acts as an adverb and is interchangeable with badly after the verbs want and need.” Most authorities, however, consider “want bad” to be informal usage. You may also find this discussion useful:

  5. Kay Mills says:

    I’m so glad to find this site. I was always taught there are very few time the word “badly” can be used. I hear it repeatedly on every TV show on these days and it drives me nuts. People have just decided it is correct grammar to use “badly” as a adverb whereever they please. It is one of my biggest “pet peeves” and I hear it more and more.

    I really feel bad for the writers of today !!!

  6. Allan says:

    “I want money so bad I can taste it.”
    “I want money so badly I can taste it.”

    I don’t know the rules. But if you switch the words around:

    “I bad want money I cant taste it.”
    “I badly want money I can taste it.”

    It’s easy to hear which word to use. It’s badly, here.

    • It does make it easier to recognize badly as an adverb when it is next to the verb want. As a mental device, it’s fine. However, if written, follow Rule 1 of Semicolons, which is “Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out.”

      I badly want money; I can taste it.

  7. jacqueline Gowe says:

    I am confused about the sentence. AJ did extremely well on the geography test. What would the opposite be? AJ did extremely bad or badly on the geography test.

    • Our blog Bad vs. Badly says, “Adverbs often end in ly. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb.” The verb in your sentence is did. Badly answers how about the verb did. Therefore, “A. J. did badly (or poorly) on the geography test.” (You can see how this opposite sentence is parallel to your first sentence since good is an adjective and well is an adverb.) Since I assume the letters AJ are somebody’s initials, we recommend following Chicago Manual of Style’s rule 10.12 which says, “Initials standing for given names are followed by a period and a space.” Since the Associated Press Stylebook recommends no space, you may see it written that way in newspapers.

      • Chris says:

        Did extremely bad on the test?
        Or did extremely badly?
        You didn’t answer that one fully.
        Did extremely well uses adverb well but the opposite shouldn’t be badly, should it?

        • You still need to use the adverb badly, not the adjective bad. Writing “extremely badly” sounds awkward because of the back-to-back -ly words. It might be better to write “very badly.”

  8. April says:

    Would you say;
    Do you know how BADLY I want to just get up and go home? or Do you know how BAD I want to just get up and go home?

  9. Trixie says:

    How about this one?

    Missing my brother so bad? Or
    Missing my borther so badly?

  10. Caroline says:

    Hi Jane, I too go wild when people say “I feel badly about…” instead of “I feel bad”. However, I am having a horrible time deciding which to use in this sentence: “Over the years my apple tree got older and older and finally rotted so badly that it had to be taken down”. Bad or badly ???…help !

  11. Abhilash Mathew says:

    Dear Jane, i badly needed the meaning of the word “badly”. now i got it. thank u very much.

  12. Yohan says:

    Dear Jane. I also have a confusion with some of my sentences.

    – He has worked bad/badly ?
    – He has bad/badly work ?

    For me, i think “he has worked badly” because badly is explaining the worked (verb)

    and for the second sentence, he has badly work ?
    Please kindly give your explanation about this.
    Thank you so much

    • The word work can be used as a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, it requires an adverb. It requires an adjective when used as a noun. You could write “He has worked badly,” or “He has done bad work,” but it would be better to say, “He has worked poorly,” or “He has done poor work.”

  13. Pam says:

    So is it ” I feel so badly for all my musician friends”? Or
    “I feel so bad for all my musician friends”?

  14. Bob Wilkinson says:


    Interestingly, I ended up in a disucussion with a colleague today about the use of bad and badly. Specifically, the question came up with the simple answer to the informal question of, “How’s it going?”

    Now, double negative not withstanding, I am under the impression that the response should be, “not badly,” as “going” would be modified. However, common informal language response is, “not bad.”

    Grammatically, which would be correct?

    • Grammatically speaking, the word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb going. So the sentence “It is not going badly” is one grammatically correct option. But bad would be equally correct. In that case, going is a linking verb, which would take an adjective (compare things are looking bad). In most common everyday verbal interactions, “How’s it going?” is just a polite greeting and is often answered with the shortened informal response, “Not bad.” Most likely what the person means by that response is, “Things are not bad.”

  15. SolitaryKay says:

    Hi Jane,
    I have read all the comments and I am really happy to have discovered this site. Please advise:
    Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have it correct
    Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have it correctly

    I am thinking correctly however sometimes it sounds so wrong I get confused

    • It is implied that the pronoun it in your sentence refers to the information. In that case, you need the adjective correct. To be clear, you could write either “Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have the correct information,” or “Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have written it correctly.”

  16. Ayrial says:

    When describing how well I do or do not text, would it be “I text bad” or “I text badly”. I think it’s obviously the latter, but having an argument with someone who disagrees.


  17. Hay says:

    I was listening to a program on Monday night. At about 4 minutes into the segment, the person being interviewed was talking about labels and bargains and then he said, “But, if that label has any tiny little tweaks on it, it means that you’re getting something that they always planned to sell cheaply…”

    Wouldn’t “sell cheap” be a better expression, given the choices. I think “selling cheaply” would mean the seller has low overhead or something like that. But he’s really talking about the price, I think. The price is cheap.

    I was debating this with some friends and couldn’t remember the exact sentence so I paraphrased it to, “It’s all about selling things cheaply.” Would that change your answer?

    • This is an example of the gray area that sometimes exists between adverbs and adjectives. For instance, we don’t say “they sold it shortly”; we say “they sold it short” (unless by “shortly” we mean “soon after”). We recommend “cheap” in this case. There is additional information implied in the sentence: something they always planned to sell [at a] cheap [price].
      In your paraphrased sentence, we would still write “cheap,” but “cheaply” is certainly justifiable.

  18. Hay says:

    No need to reply or post or acknowledge, but I wanted you to know that I see your answer and appreciate your taking the time to answer.



  19. Sean says:

    Hi Jane –
    Are there any exceptions to the bad vs. badly rule (after a descriptive vs. active verb)?

    In the American south and in England it is common to say “I feel poorly” even though “feel” is used descriptively here.

    If instead one were to say “I feel poor”, that changes the entire meaning.


    • The use of the word “poorly” as an adjective is generally a regional term meaning “somewhat ill.” We do not recommend its use in formal American English. It would be better to say “I feel ill” or “I don’t feel well.”

  20. LylleRamos says:

    Hello Dear Jane,
    I really need your help!So here it goes :
    He sometimes argues with Paul,And that automatic or automatically?Has a bad or badly ?effect on Paul’s work .
    Thank you!

    • You need to use the adverb automatically to describe the verb has, and the adjective bad to describe the noun effect.
      He sometimes argues with Paul, and that automatically has a bad effect on Paul’s work.

  21. Soupiepoupie says:

    What about the word, “good?” I was taught in 1974 that “ly”
    never belonged on the words good or bad?

    • The person who told you that was misinformed. The word badly is an adverb meaning “very much, to a great degree; severely or seriously.” The word goodly is an adjective meaning “large in size or amount.”

  22. Saad says:

    ‘He knows what i was doing these days’
    Is my sentence correct

    • Since you are speaking about the present, your sentence should read “He knows what I am doing these days.” The pronoun I should be capitalized and there should be a period at the end of the sentence.

  23. Ken says:


    An editorial in the Irish Times newspaper recently used the word ‘Her’s’ twice.
    Is this correct.
    The sentence was Her’s was a . The same grammatical spelling was used later in the editorial.
    There was no possessive in either sentence.
    I am very surprised Ireland’s paper of repute has got its grammar so very wrong.

  24. sadegh says:

    I held the bag tight,even though my arm hurt……….
    a. bad
    dear mam please answer the question.

  25. OsuBuckeye says:

    Which one is it?
    1. I love when your team does bad?
    2. I love when your team does badly?

  26. Sarah says:

    What about when you say ‘really badly’. Like, for example : ‘she was hurt really badly’

  27. l99 says:

    Is “equally badly” correct?

  28. Phil Kershner says:

    Do I say “Don’t speak bad about someone…” or “Don’t speak badly about someone….”? The latter would seem to be a comment on the act of speaking, which is obviously not the intent.

    • Write “Don’t speak badly about someone.” The adverb badly modifies the verb speak. To be more clear, you could write “Don’t say negative things about someone.”

      • Anda says:

        Isn’t this the same as the debate for “wanting bad”? Well, sort of. What I mean is that you don’t have impaired speech to “speak badly”, but rather bad refers to the things that you are saying

        • With want, use the adverb badly when it answers to what degree. To want something “bad” is a casualism and would not be appropriate in formal speech or writing. However, if “bad” is used as a noun, the following would be grammatical: “He wanted bad to befall his enemies.”

          Similarly, one can both “speak badly” (i.e., say something ineffectively) and “speak bad” (i.e., say something critical or harmful, as in Never speak bad about the dead).

  29. Gila says:

    What about the word feel with strongly? As in I felt strongly about the issue. We don’t use the word strong but isn’t felt the same felt that is in I felt bad. but we say bad and not badly. so why the difference with strongly? isn’t it the same feel word?

    • In the phrase “I feel strongly,” the verb feel is used as an intransitive verb meaning “to have a marked sentiment or opinion.” In the phrase “I feel bad,” the verb feel is used as a linking verb. The linking verb means “to be in a particular state as a result of an emotion or physical feeling” and is followed by an adjective, not an adverb.

  30. Eli says:

    The technical explanation seems to make it much more complicated than it needs to be. I was told these distinctions involved “state of being.” I feel bad is correct if feel is being used as your state of being (health or emotion). I feel badly would mean you are having trouble with your sense of touch (an action). likewise I smell bad would be talking about body odor, while I smell badly would mean you have trouble with working of your nose. I look bad would be talking about your appearance, while I look badly would mean you are having trouble with your vision (although there must be a better way to describe that). Likewise if you feel strong, it is a state of being as about your health or strength. If you feel strongly it needs to be about (linked to) something, and therefore is not your state of being. Want is not a state of being, nor is need, they need to be about (linked to) something.

  31. Dinora says:

    Why did Ben Yagoda title his book How to Not Write Bad?

    The “Introduction” starts with the following sentence: “Why a book on how to not write bad (or badly, if you insist)?”

    I do not understand.

    • We assume by his parenthetical note that the author knew some grammarians would object to his use of the word bad. The title is meant to be humorous. Ben Yagoda is a highly respected and knowledgeable scholar.

  32. Dinora says:

    There is also writing proper and writing properly.

    • The adverb properly answers the question how? about the verb writing. The phrase “writing proper” could be correct if followed by a noun. An example of this is the phrase “writing proper English.”

  33. Saoshyant says:

    Is it: “I’m going to hurt you really bad!”
    Or: “I’m going to hurt you really badly!”

    I think it’s the latter, but why does the former sound better? Is it the back-to-back -ly words?

  34. Bill says:

    How about “feeling really badly”?
    It’s that correct?

  35. Janet Howle says:

    Need help with this even after reading all the examples.
    …maybe it would make him see how bad(ly) she felt.

  36. Kate says:

    Can you stop acting bad?
    Can you stop acting badly?

    Is badly the correct choice?

  37. Evan K. says:

    The wound hurt _____.
    a. bad
    b. badly

    Keeping in mind that this “hurt” is a sensing, not an action verb, and I am not interested in the wound’s ability to inflict pain, but how it feels to the sensing person.


  38. Hitman says:

    I wish badly that I will have too. Is it correct?

  39. Kayne says:


    What about when Toni Childs sings “why do you treat me so bad” on her song ‘I’ve got to go now’. Would badly be more correct, or is either acceptable.

  40. Barney says:

    I saw an article title “Will there be a difference if things go bad?” Since the word bad answers the how for the verb go, is this incorrect? Should it be ‘badly’?

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