Grammar: I feel badly

When I say I feel bad, I’m telling you about my emotions or health. When I feel badly, there is something wrong with my sensation of touch.

April 16, 2010 16:22
3 minute read.
DID SHE sing bad or badly?

singer illustrative 311. (photo credit: Chris Strach/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)


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When your friend says, “I feel badly,” do you recoil in horror over such grammatical insensitivity on her part? Or perhaps, has the poor dear suffered an injury to her hand, impeding sensations of touch in her fingers? If she is a nincompoop when it comes to grammar, we both know she really meant “I feel bad.” If she suffered an injury to her hand, she may have meant that statement, so beware you do not demean her needlessly. I recommend proceeding with extreme caution. Bad can get worse, you know.

When I say I feel bad, I’m telling you about my emotions or state of health. When I say I feel badly, I’m explaining that there is something wrong with my sensation of touch due to such disasters as burned fingers, hand caught in a wringer or hand snatched back painfully from an alligator’s mouth. Dramatic, I know, but possibly true.Let’s say I got fired from my job. Do I feel bad or badly? Answer: bad.

Suppose I smashed my hand in the door. Do I feel bad or badly? Badly, if we mean how awkward my poor hand is performing. “Bad” is an adjective and “badly” is an adverb. When mixed up, they make for bad grammar indeed.

• I feel bad about losing the election. (Right.)

• I feel badly about losing the election. (Wrong, wrong, wrong.)

• She played the piano bad. (Wrong.)

• She played the piano badly. (Right.)

Use the comparative degree when you are comparing two people, things or actions.

• Silk is much fancier than satin.

• Diamonds sparkle more brightly than pearls.

Use the superlative degree when you are comparing more than two. The superlative degree puts the modified word over all the others in the group. The superlative is used to indicate the greatest degree of a quality among three or more people, things or actions.

• The peaches are sweeter than the grapes, but the cherries are the sweetest of all.

• Of all the members of the swim team, Yaron swims the fastest.

• He was the jolliest of the whole gang.

Remember: Good/better/best (not gooder or goodest). Bad/worse/worst (not badder or baddest).

• He was a worse cook than Charlene. She was the worst cook of us all.

• Rain is better than snow. Sunshine is the best of all weathers.

Comparison examines the similarities between two objects. Contrast, on the other hand, emphasizes the differences. Thus, if I compare apples to oranges, I may refer to the sameness of their shapes and both belonging to the fruit family and other similarities. But if I contrast apples to oranges, I will probably cite differences in shapes, varieties of taste of the two fruits and maybe even the price for each. It’s important to note that when I compare two items, I can cite them separate point-by-point one at a time, or I can shift the comparison back and forth from one item to the other, focusing on an aspect of the subject.

Sometimes we use the superlative to add special emphasis among (not between) three or more people or things.

• Today was the loveliest of all the days of summer.

• He was the tallest man I’ve ever seen in my life.

Mixed-Up Test

Some of these sentences are correct; some are not so you will have to figure out which ones are OK. If you find mistakes, correct the errors, please.

1. He’s the baddest singer in the choir.
2. Whose the worst cook, she or me?
3. I feel bad.
4. Its the baddest feeling I ever had.
5. John smells badly. Whew! He stinks!
6. She speaks badly.
7. They hung the criminal badly.
8. Too bad.
9. He felt worser yesterday.
10. Who is the worse player of the three?

The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert living in the US.

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