Should I Use Bad or Badly?


Posted by Jake Magnum | December 21, 2017 | This or That?


Many people use the word bad when they should use badly (or poorly) instead. Some examples of this mistake are given here:

He played bad in yesterday’s game.

He did bad on his exam.

The interview went every bit as bad as I had feared.

The reason these sentences are incorrect is that the word bad—which is an adjective and is therefore meant to describe only nouns—has been used to describe verbs (played, did, and went).

However, there is a special case regarding the word bad. When describing a sense verb (i.e., look, sound, feel, smell, or taste), bad can—and usually should—be used as an adverb.

For example, the following is a grammatically correct sentence, even though it is similar to the incorrect examples above:

He smells bad.

If badly were used instead of bad, we would still have a grammatically correct sentence, but with a different meaning. “He smells bad” means that he is giving off an unpleasant odor, whereas “He smells badly” means that his sense of smell is weak and that he has trouble identifying different scents.

Sometimes, when it comes to phrases like “He smells bad,” people try too hard to write or speak grammatically and end up using badly when they actually should use bad. This seems to especially be the case with the verb feel.

Many people, trying to speak correctly, will say “I feel badly,” to announce that they are sad, guilty, or are experiencing some other negative feeling. However, this is not what the sentence, “I feel badly” means. “I feel badly” means that the speaker has a weak sense of touch.