The worst part about my interest in language is that I know just enough to make myself crazy when I talk. I know what I want to say, but I need to choose between two words that confuse me, and then I get stuck in the recesses of my brain, trying to remember which word is correct. It’s linguistic torture.
One of those mean word duos is bad / badly. For example, if I am experiencing regret, do I feel bad about it or do I feel badly about it? I can get myself all turned about inside on that one. Perhaps today’s Which Word Wednesday will help. Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:
bad :: adjective
of poor quality; inferior or defective; not such as to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome; regretful, guilty, or ashamed about something
badly :: adverb
in an unsatisfactory, inadequate, or unsuccessful way; to a great or serious degree; severely
We have one adjective (modifying nouns) and one adverb (modifying verbs)—so these words are not interchangeable. Context is key. To use the correct word, you have to know what you are modifying. Not always so easy, especially when the words are gushing out and you have like five seconds to choose.
“The reason it’s easy to be confused is that ‘feel’ can be a linking verb or an action verb. Action verbs are easy to understand. They describe actions. If I reach out and touch your cashmere sweater to see how soft it is, I’ve taken an action. I am feeling your sweater.
“Linking verbs are more subtle. They describe emotions or states of being. If I am regretful about something and I want to describe my feelings, I’m describing my state of mind, not an action.”
This is why we get confused, but we also need help to not be confused. Grammar Girl gives this tip:
“Can you replace ‘feel’ with ‘am’? If so, choose the adjective and write ‘I feel bad.’”
And I add this memory hook to the mix:
If your hand is numb, you can’t feel what you are touching, so you feel badly.
If your heart is sad, you feel the weight of emotion, so you feel bad.
What’s my WWW verdict? Numb hands make for a heavy heart.
What’s your verdict? Do you stumble over bad and badly? Do you have a tip for keeping them straight? Do share in the comments.
Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.