Word Choice – Bad Versus Badly

BizWritingTip reader: “I just read this sentence in a book. ‘Are you allowing your friend to make you feel badly?’ I would have used ‘bad’ in this case. But maybe I am wrong. Please advise.”

BizWritingTip response: Have the courage of your convictions! “Bad” is absolutely right here; “badly” is wrong. People often confuse the use of these two words because it involves one of those numerous exceptions to the grammar rules.

First, the rule. “Bad” is an adjective. It describes a noun or a pronoun. “Badly” is an adverb. It describes a verb. Think of it as answering the question “how.”

Examples (correct)
He received a bad review. (adjective describing a noun)
She sang badly. (adverb describing a verb – She sang how?)
The team played badly. (adverb describing how the team played)

Now, the exception. According to references, such as Fowler’s Modern English Usage, when using the verb “to feel” or any of its variations, the correct word to use is “bad.”

Examples (correct)
Does she make you feel bad?
I felt bad about missing the trip.

When you say “feel badly,” it implies that you are referring – not to your emotions – but to your sense of touch. “I feel badly” means my ability to feel (with my fingers) is not good.

 As someone in one of my workshops once said, “You would never feel ‘goodly.’ ”