Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Avoid Being Involuntarily Committed by Mastering Bad v. Badly

Today’s nugget is bad versus badly, an easy one to cognize, perhaps even more so if you enjoy this odd way of looking at it.

We shall examine the question through the declarative sentence, “I feel bad.” Some may be tempted to say, “I feel badly.” Don’t do it. When you say, “I feel badly,” the conclusion I reach is that you have just returned from the woods where you buried four members of a traveling circus in a shallow grave.

You may ask, “Well that’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?” I don’t think so. When you say you feel badly, badly is an adverb that is modifying the verb to feel. You are saying, “I am bad at feeling.”

You don’t feel things. You are incapable of empathy. You are a sociopath. You display antipathy to the pain of others. You went to the circus when it came to town. You killed a mime, two clowns and the magician’s lovely assistant. And now here you are, admitting your depraved indifference to humanity. You feel badly.

The adjective works here, not the adverb. If you feel bad, you may badly need a drink. Here, badly is modifying need, adding adverbial intensification to the act of needing. The main thing to remember is that adverbs do not function independently, so if you see one hanging out by itself, the adjectival form is probably called for.

Painting by Andrew Salgado