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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.
Examples:
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.
Examples:
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


48 Comments

48 Responses to “Bad vs. Badly

  1. Shawn says:

    Hi,

    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?).

    • Jane says:

      You need to use a word that describes the verb want. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb want.
      I want money so badly I can taste it.

  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.

    • Jane says:

      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.

        • Jane says:

          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, Dictionary.com‘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 Dictionary.com. It is listed as an “informal” adverb meaning “badly.” The example is “He wanted it bad enough to steal it. ” I 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?

    • Jane says:

      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.

  4. Justin says:

    Jane,

    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.

    • Jane says:

      I am 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: http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/10/bad-badly.html.

  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.

    • Jane says:

      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.

    • Jane says:

      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?

        • Jane says:

          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?

    • Jane says:

      You need to use the adverb badly to describe the verb missing. To make this a complete sentence, you could write “I am missing my brother 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 !

    • Jane says:

      You need to use an adverb to describe the verb rotted. Badly is an adverb.
      Over the years my apple tree got older and older and finally rotted so badly that it had to be taken down.

  11. Abhilash Mathew says:

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

    • Jane says:

      You are welcome. In formal written English your comment would be:

      Dear Jane,
      I badly needed the meaning of the word “badly.” Now I have it. Thank you very much.

      • Milk says:

        I badly needed the meaning of the word “badly.” Now I have it. Thank you very much.

        I would like to know if I needed to put a comma after ‘Now’.
        I badly needed the meaning of the word “badly.” Now, I have it. Thank you 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

    • Jane says:

      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”?

    • Jane says:

      Since you are not feeling with fingers but instead are describing your state of mind, use the adjective bad after the sense verb feel.
      “I feel so bad for all my musician friends.”

  14. Bob Wilkinson says:

    Jane,

    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?

    • Jane says:

      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
    VS
    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

    • Jane says:

      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.

    Thanks!

  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?

    • Jane says:

      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.

    Thanks.

    Hay

  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.

    Thanks,
    Sean

    • 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.

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