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Grammar Repair Shop: How bad is ‘badly’?

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in Workplace Communication

Please address the use of the word “bad” versus “badly.”

Some of the folks in our office use the adverb when talking about their feelings. Since my high school English teachers were all over us about using “the Queen’s English,” it drives me a little nutso to hear someone say, “I feel badly for them.” Shouldn’t it be “I feel bad?”

“Feeling badly” means something is wrong with your sense of touch, isn’t that correct? Or am I way off base?

You’re right; saying you “feel badly” about someone or something constitutes substandard English. It all stems from the evolution of the phrase “I feel” from “I am in ____ health.” Thus, proper usage holds that, when using the phrase “I feel,” you treat it as if it reads “I am.”

Therefore, “I feel” takes an adjective — “bad,” in this case — instead of the adverb “badly.” (After all, you wouldn’t say “I am badly.”)

Easy reminder: You would never say “I feel goodly.”

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