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01/01/01 and 01/07/05: Bad or Badly?

Here's a New Year's resolution you can keep: vow never again to confuse the adjective "bad" with the adverb "badly."

Which of these are correct?

1. Our stock performed badly last year.
2. Tim delegates badly.
3. We felt badly about our stock's performance last year.
4. I feel badly about not calling sooner.
5. When I visited her in the hospital, she looked badly.

Only the first two are correct. Because "badly" is an adverb, it describes the manner in which an action is performed.  In the first two sentences, "performing" and "delegating" are actions, so it is appropriate to use an adverb to describe HOW they are done.

In the last three sentences, "feeling" and "looking" are not actions but states of being. The correct word in each case would be "bad" because we are NOT describing the manner in which an action is being performed.

In sentences 3 and 4, since "feel" is not an action verb, we should use the adjective "bad" to describe the pronouns "we" and "I."

If we were talking about the other kind of verb "to feel"--the one that means to use one's sense of touch--then we WOULD use the adverb "badly" because then we would be describing an action. Someone who has damaged the nerve endings in his or her fingers would "feel badly" because in that context we would be describing the ACTION of feeling and not the state of being that is suggested in sentences 3 and 4.

Similarly, sentence 5 refers to "looking" as a state of being, and "bad" should be used to describe "she."  If instead we were to describe the manner in which someone gazed upon something--that is, the ACTION of looking--then "badly" would be correct: "We never found the hidden key because we looked badly."

"Taste" is another example of a verb that sometimes describes an action and sometimes describes a state of being. While it is possible for a person to "taste badly"--that is, to use taste buds to perform the act of sampling something--food itself "tastes bad" because it cannot perform the action of tasting anything. Thus, "bad" is an adjective describing the food.

Bottom line: When you're tempted to use "badly," be sure you are describing an ACTION.

TEST YOURSELF: Which word--"bad" or "badly"--belongs in each blank below?

1. I felt ____ about eating the last slice of fruitcake.

2. My two-year-old daughter ate her fruitcake _____, crumbling it onto the floor, mashing it in her hair, and squeezing it between her fingers before putting tiny morsels in her mouth.

3. That fruitcake didn't taste as ____ as I thought it would.

4. Right after he ate the fruitcake, he looked ____ and ran out of the room quickly.

5. He made her feel ____ when he told her how ____ she cooks.

Check for the answers in next week's tip.

ANSWERS:

1. I felt BAD about eating the last slice of fruitcake. [Here "feel" is not an action verb.]

2. My two-year-old daughter ate her fruitcake BADLY, crumbling it onto the floor, mashing it in her hair, and squeezing it between her fingers before putting tiny morsels in her mouth. [Here "ate" IS an action verb.]

3. That fruitcake didn't taste as BAD as I thought it would. [The fruitcake did not perform the action of tasting.]

4. Right after he ate the fruitcake, he looked BAD and ran out of the room quickly.[Here "looking" describes a state of being, not the action of gazing upon something.]

5. He made her feel BAD when he told her how BADLY she cooks. ["Feeling" in this context is not an action, but "cooking" is.]

Copyright 2001 Get It Write

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