Bad vs. Badly

The word bad is an adjective used to modify nouns and pronouns.
Example: She was in a bad accident.

Adverbs often end in ly. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb.
Example: She was hurt badly in the accident.

bad vs. badly

The confusion comes with four of the sense verbs: taste, look, smell, and feel.
When we use these verbs actively, we should follow them with adverbs. (Hear is always used actively.)
When we use these verbs descriptively, we should follow them with adjectives.
I feel bad about having said that.
I am not feeling with fingers in the above example; I am describing my state of mind, so the adjective is used (no ly).

She feels badly since her fingers were burned.
She feels with her fingers here so the adverb (ly form) is used.

You can use this same rule about sense verbs with adjectives and adverbs other than bad and badly.
The mask over his face made him look suspicious to the police.
He did not look with eyes. Look describes his appearance so the adjective is needed.

She looked suspiciously at the $100 bill.
She looked with eyes so the adverb is needed.

She looked good for someone who never exercised.
She didn’t look with eyes. Good is describing her appearance so the adjective is needed.

He smelled well for someone with a cold.
He is actively smelling with his nose so the adverb is needed.

Rule: Well, although more often an adverb, functions as an adjective when referring to health.
Example: He doesn’t feel well enough today to come to work.


Pop Quiz

1. Please don’t feel bad/badly about forgetting to call me.
2. His face looked bad/badly bruised after being punched.
3. She looked cautious/cautiously at the man ahead of her.
4. She feels cautious/cautiously when walking alone at night.
5. She smelled good/well after spraying perfume on her neck.
6. If you feel good/well enough on Saturday, we hope you will join us for dinner.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Please don’t feel bad about forgetting to call me.
2. His face looked badly bruised after being punched.
3. She looked cautiously at the man ahead of her.
4. She feels cautious when walking alone at night.
5. She smelled good after spraying perfume on her neck.
6. If you feel well enough on Saturday, we hope you will join us for dinner.

If you wish to respond to another reader's question or comment, please click its corresponding "REPLY" button. If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

151 Comments on Bad vs. Badly

151 responses to “Bad vs. Badly

  1. Tania says:

    Which one is correct?
    1. I love you so bad.
    2. I love you so badly.
    3. I like it so bad.
    4 I like it so badly.
    Help please.

    • says:

      Whether you use an adverb or an adjective to modify a verb will depend on whether it is a transitive verb or a linking verb. A transitive verb can have a direct object. A linking verb (e.g., be, seem, become) will not have a direct object. Love and like are transitive verbs, so you would write I love you so badly and I like it so badly. If you were using a linking verb, you would apply the adjective form: He is bad, She seems bad.

  2. Sommerseth says:

    How about:
    1) It can come out differently and hurt someone’s feelings very bad.
    2) It can come out differently and hurt someone’s feelings very badly.

  3. Janice H. says:

    I loved your newsletter today on “Bad vs. Badly.” I have had quite a number of pitched (verbal) battles with friends and students about “feel bad” vs. “feel badly.” I know educated people who have no difficulty in saying “I feel good about that,” but they are very uncomfortable saying “I feel bad about that.” I have wondered sometimes whether the problem might be psychological rather than grammatical. The word “bad” can mean “evil” or “wicked” and perhaps people are uncomfortable saying something about themselves that could have an undercurrent of those other meanings. Just a thought.

    Have a good day and continue to send your interesting articles.

    • CW says:

      re: I feel bad. I agree that the word “bad” has at least two common meanings that can be confused.
      I feel bad about it….might mean that one feels morally bad or it might mean that one feels regretful.

      The same distinction mutatis mutandis applies to “good,” but is almost always used to mean that one has a good feeling about something….sometimes with a prophetic connotation….I have a good feeling that this will work out.

  4. CW says:

    Another set of angles:

    I feel good = I am a good person
    I feel good about this = I have a good feeling about it
    I feel well = I am in a healthy state or I have sensitive fingers
    Thus, she looked well for someone who didn’t exercise
    Or, she looked good for someone who didn’t use make up
    I ate a goodly amount = large portion
    I feel bad = I am a bad person
    I feel badly = I have clumsy fingers
    Good is as good does

    He looked suspicious to the police = They inferred that he was up to no good (or to no well. LOL.)
    He looked suspicious to the police = They inferred that he was paranoid about something, perhaps them.

  5. Vicki says:

    I am not sure I understand the explanation for the example: She feels badly since her fingers were burned. She feels with her fingers here so the adverb (ly form) is used.

    She was not ‘feeling with her fingers’ in this instance. And if she was, would we really say she “feels badly”? Just an observation. From my perspective, that doesn’t make sense.

    • says:

      This sentence refers to one of the five senses rather than a description of her state of mind (feeling bad). It means that her sense of touch has been affected by the burn. That is why the adverb badly is used. Admittedly, this might sound a bit odd in conversation, but we included it to demonstrate a situation where “feel badly” is grammatically correct.

  6. Chris says:

    The president almost always uses badly for everything on how he feels. “I feel badly about” the chants at the rally. I think this is incorrect right?

    • says:

      You are right. When one is not feeling with fingers but instead describing one’s state of mind, use the adjective bad after the sense verb feel.

  7. Alex says:

    Thank you for the article!
    I have a question and I used several grammar books but I can’t find the answer. Can we use I know somebody or something badly meaning I don’t know them / it well?
    Technically it’s correct, because to know is a verb, but why does it sound so weird? And what’s the grammatical standpoint on this?

    • says:

      We would not recommend using badly in such a context. Beyond not being clear that the intended meaning is “not well,” it could confuse readers or listeners by suggesting that you know someone in a bad way.

  8. Webb says:

    One sentence: drive safe vs drive safely?

  9. Jerry says:

    I want to be something so bad/badly.

  10. Pat Russell says:

    How about this one: The deal went bad.
    I think that is correct. I think the process of making a deal might go badly, but once a deal is made, then goes sour, it’s correct to say it went bad.
    Your expert opinion, please.

  11. Jan seeley says:

    Please comment on which is correct:
    He sounded terrible.
    He sounded terribly.

  12. Monica says:

    How should it be?
    The hairdresser cut my hair very badly?
    The hairdresser cut my hair very bad?

    Thank you.

  13. Kevin says:

    In this example, which is correct?

    “To make or try to make me feel bad. . . ” (or), “To make or try to make me feel badly. . . “

  14. M.C. says:

    The ants taste badly.
    The ants taste bad.

    Which is correct?

    • If you are writing about tasting ants, use the adjective bad. If you are describing the ants’ sense of taste, use the adverb badly. However, we’re concerned about how you’re spending your time.

  15. Cristie says:

    Is this correct…
    My head hurts very badly.

  16. Ovin says:

    He played really bad or he played really badly? Which one is the correct one??

  17. Patrick says:

    Does the sentence ‘I felt really badly about it’ make sense?

  18. amalina says:

    i’ve read a few usage of the word badly. but could you please comments on the using of badly in this sentence,
    i am missing them so badly.
    is it correct? because as i go along the q n a i get confused

    thank you so much

  19. Peter says:

    I’m just wondering, is it correct to to say “I failed so bad” or “I failed badly”? A similar sentence is “He got beat up so bad” or “He got beat up badly”? Also, how do we introduce tenses to the above?


    • Use the adverb badly to modify the verbs failed and beaten up. We’re not clear about what you mean by “introduce tenses.” Perhaps instead of past tense, you’re looking for present tense, such as I am failing badly.

  20. Jan says:

    I think in about 20 to 30 years there will be no such thing as an adverb. People aren’t using them correctly and where I’m from in Canada, grammar hasn’t been taught for 25 to 30 years. Look at the sign posted by many municipal governments: Go slow. That should be “Go slowly”. The songs quoted above are further examples. People are using adjectives everywhere to describe verbs. Adverbs might end up like ‘shall’, which is considered correct but antiquated now and and normally replaced by ‘will’. The problem is that the new teachers now know no more grammar than their students. Only those who study a foreign language (French, Latin, Spanish, German, etc.) learn any grammar, because other languages don’t seem to have ruined their language as much as English speakers.

    Another very common mistake I hear so often: Me and Toby went to the mall and Sarah met Toby and I there. Nominative and accusative pronoun usage actually switched! That sentence should read “Toby and I went to the mall and Sarah met Toby and me there”. A good way to check this is to remove the other person. You wouldn’t say “Me went to the mall and Sarah met I there.” If removing the other person sounds terrible, the wrong pronoun(s) were probably used initially. A subject should always be in the subjective case and the object of a verb or preposition should always be in the objective case (at least in English). However, most readers wouldn’t know what a case is, might know what a pronoun is and wouldn’t know what subjective (nominative),–I, she, he, we, they–objective (accusative)–me, her, him, us, them–and possessive (genitive)–mine, hers, his, ours, theirs–cases are.

  21. Rehab says:

    Can i say ” smoking effects badly on our health ? Did i use the adverb in the right way ?

    • No, the word effects is a noun. Therefore, you need to use the adjective bad. Smoking has bad effects on our health.
      You could also use the verb affects and the adverb badly. Smoking affects our health badly. We would more commonly say Smoking adversely affects our health or Smoking has an adverse effect on our health.

  22. Carol says:

    Is ” I love you so badly” grammatically correct? Does it sound weird to native English speakers?

    • It is grammatically correct; however, the meaning is unclear and may be interpreted in a way you don’t intend. Some may think you’re saying that you’re just not doing a good job at loving the person. But if you mean intensely, you may wish to say “I love you madly (or so madly)” or “I’m madly in love with you.”

  23. Rheena V. says:

    how about “I would like to travel so bad/badly?” which one is correct? thanks

  24. Novah Asentista says:

    How about this.

    “The sopremo really sang quite bad/badly.”

    Which one is correct? Bad or badly?

  25. Janice Jeffcoat says:

    In a discussion concerning poor grammar on Facebook, my niece responded to someone complaining that if you correct someone you can lose friends by saying, “I don’t get it quite as badly because it’s my job. People expect it from me.” She just graduated from college with a degree in technical writing, but for some reason her response sounds discordant to my ear. Is her response grammatically correct?

    • The sentence is vague because it is unclear what “it” is referring to.
      A better choice of words might be “I don’t get complaints quite as often because it’s my job.”

  26. Anastasia says:

    In ‘Farewell to Arms’ there is an example: ‘He lived in Udine and came out in this way nearly every day to see how things were going, and things went very badly’.
    Isn’t ‘went’ here an example of a linking verb?
    Or were grammar ruled different?
    Thanks in advance.

  27. Barney says:

    I saw an article title “Will there be a difference if things go bad?” Since the word bad answers the how for the verb go, is this incorrect? Should it be ‘badly’?

  28. Kayne says:

    What about when Toni Childs sings “why do you treat me so bad” on her song ‘I’ve got to go now’. Would badly be more correct, or is either acceptable.

  29. Hitman says:

    I wish badly that I will have too. Is it correct?

  30. Evan K. says:

    The wound hurt _____.
    a. bad
    b. badly

    Keeping in mind that this “hurt” is a sensing, not an action verb, and I am not interested in the wound’s ability to inflict pain, but how it feels to the sensing person.


  31. Kate says:

    Can you stop acting bad?
    Can you stop acting badly?

    Is badly the correct choice?

  32. Janet Howle says:

    Need help with this even after reading all the examples.
    …maybe it would make him see how bad(ly) she felt.

  33. Bill says:

    How about “feeling really badly”?
    It’s that correct?

    • If you are not feeling with fingers but instead are describing your state of mind, use the adjective bad after the sense verb feel. This rule still applies if you use the adverb really.

  34. Saoshyant says:

    Is it: “I’m going to hurt you really bad!”
    Or: “I’m going to hurt you really badly!”

    I think it’s the latter, but why does the former sound better? Is it the back-to-back -ly words?

  35. Dinora says:

    There is also writing proper and writing properly.

    • The adverb properly answers the question how? about the verb writing. The phrase “writing proper” could be correct if followed by a noun. An example of this is the phrase “writing proper English.”

  36. Dinora says:

    Why did Ben Yagoda title his book How to Not Write Bad?

    The “Introduction” starts with the following sentence: “Why a book on how to not write bad (or badly, if you insist)?”

    I do not understand.

    • We assume by his parenthetical note that the author knew some grammarians would object to his use of the word bad. The title is meant to be humorous. Ben Yagoda is a highly respected and knowledgeable scholar.

  37. Eli says:

    The technical explanation seems to make it much more complicated than it needs to be. I was told these distinctions involved “state of being.” I feel bad is correct if feel is being used as your state of being (health or emotion). I feel badly would mean you are having trouble with your sense of touch (an action). likewise I smell bad would be talking about body odor, while I smell badly would mean you have trouble with working of your nose. I look bad would be talking about your appearance, while I look badly would mean you are having trouble with your vision (although there must be a better way to describe that). Likewise if you feel strong, it is a state of being as about your health or strength. If you feel strongly it needs to be about (linked to) something, and therefore is not your state of being. Want is not a state of being, nor is need, they need to be about (linked to) something.

  38. Gila says:

    What about the word feel with strongly? As in I felt strongly about the issue. We don’t use the word strong but isn’t felt the same felt that is in I felt bad. but we say bad and not badly. so why the difference with strongly? isn’t it the same feel word?

    • In the phrase “I feel strongly,” the verb feel is used as an intransitive verb meaning “to have a marked sentiment or opinion.” In the phrase “I feel bad,” the verb feel is used as a linking verb. The linking verb means “to be in a particular state as a result of an emotion or physical feeling” and is followed by an adjective, not an adverb.

  39. Phil Kershner says:

    Do I say “Don’t speak bad about someone…” or “Don’t speak badly about someone….”? The latter would seem to be a comment on the act of speaking, which is obviously not the intent.

    • Write “Don’t speak badly about someone.” The adverb badly modifies the verb speak. To be more clear, you could write “Don’t say negative things about someone.”

      • Anda says:

        Isn’t this the same as the debate for “wanting bad”? Well, sort of. What I mean is that you don’t have impaired speech to “speak badly”, but rather bad refers to the things that you are saying

        • With want, use the adverb badly when it answers to what degree. To want something “bad” is a casualism and would not be appropriate in formal speech or writing. However, if “bad” is used as a noun, the following would be grammatical: “He wanted bad to befall his enemies.”

          Similarly, one can both “speak badly” (i.e., say something ineffectively) and “speak bad” (i.e., say something critical or harmful, as in Never speak bad about the dead).

  40. l99 says:

    Is “equally badly” correct?

  41. Sarah says:

    What about when you say ‘really badly’. Like, for example : ‘she was hurt really badly’

  42. OsuBuckeye says:

    Which one is it?
    1. I love when your team does bad?
    2. I love when your team does badly?

  43. sadegh says:

    I held the bag tight,even though my arm hurt……….
    a. bad
    dear mam please answer the question.

      • rico says:

        Shouldn’t it be “I held the bag tightly?”

        • One of the accepted uses of the word tight is as an adverb. The American Heritage Dictionary provides further explanation in the following note:

          Usage Note: Tight is used as an adverb following verbs that denote a process of closure or constriction, as squeeze, shut, close, tie, and hold. In this use it is subtly distinct from the adverb tightly. Tight denotes the state resulting from the process, whereas tightly denotes the manner of its application. As such, tight is more appropriate when the focus is on a state that endures for some time after the activity has ended. The sentence She closed up the house tight suggests preparation for an impending blizzard. By the same token, it is more natural to say The windows were frozen tight than The windows were frozen tightly, since in this case the tightness of the seal is not likely to be the result of the manner in which the windows were frozen. With a few verbs tight is used idiomatically as an intensive and is the only possible form: sleep tight; sit tight. Tight can be used only following the verb: The house was shut tight (not tight shut). Before the verb, use tightly: The house was tightly shut.

  44. Ken says:

    An editorial in the Irish Times newspaper recently used the word ‘Her’s’ twice.
    Is this correct.
    The sentence was Her’s was a . The same grammatical spelling was used later in the editorial.
    There was no possessive in either sentence.
    I am very surprised Ireland’s paper of repute has got its grammar so very wrong.

  45. Saad says:

    ‘He knows what i was doing these days’
    Is my sentence correct

    • Since you are speaking about the present, your sentence should read “He knows what I am doing these days.” The pronoun I should be capitalized and there should be a period at the end of the sentence.

  46. Soupiepoupie says:

    What about the word, “good?” I was taught in 1974 that “ly”
    never belonged on the words good or bad?

    • The person who told you that was misinformed. The word badly is an adverb meaning “very much, to a great degree; severely or seriously.” The word goodly is an adjective meaning “large in size or amount.”

  47. LylleRamos says:

    I really need your help!So here it goes :
    He sometimes argues with Paul,And that automatic or automatically?Has a bad or badly ?effect on Paul’s work .
    Thank you!

    • You need to use the adverb automatically to describe the verb has, and the adjective bad to describe the noun effect.
      He sometimes argues with Paul, and that automatically has a bad effect on Paul’s work.

  48. Sean says:

    Are there any exceptions to the bad vs. badly rule (after a descriptive vs. active verb)?

    In the American south and in England it is common to say “I feel poorly” even though “feel” is used descriptively here.

    If instead one were to say “I feel poor”, that changes the entire meaning.


    • The use of the word “poorly” as an adjective is generally a regional term meaning “somewhat ill.” We do not recommend its use in formal American English. It would be better to say “I feel ill” or “I don’t feel well.”

  49. Hay says:

    No need to reply or post or acknowledge, but I wanted you to know that I see your answer and appreciate your taking the time to answer.


  50. Hay says:

    I was listening to a program on Monday night. At about 4 minutes into the segment, the person being interviewed was talking about labels and bargains and then he said, “But, if that label has any tiny little tweaks on it, it means that you’re getting something that they always planned to sell cheaply…”

    Wouldn’t “sell cheap” be a better expression, given the choices. I think “selling cheaply” would mean the seller has low overhead or something like that. But he’s really talking about the price, I think. The price is cheap.

    I was debating this with some friends and couldn’t remember the exact sentence so I paraphrased it to, “It’s all about selling things cheaply.” Would that change your answer?

    • This is an example of the gray area that sometimes exists between adverbs and adjectives. For instance, we don’t say “they sold it shortly”; we say “they sold it short” (unless by “shortly” we mean “soon after”). We recommend “cheap” in this case. There is additional information implied in the sentence: something they always planned to sell [at a] cheap [price].
      In your paraphrased sentence, we would still write “cheap,” but “cheaply” is certainly justifiable.

  51. Ayrial says:

    When describing how well I do or do not text, would it be “I text bad” or “I text badly”. I think it’s obviously the latter, but having an argument with someone who disagrees.


  52. SolitaryKay says:

    I have read all the comments and I am really happy to have discovered this site. Please advise:
    Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have it correct
    Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have it correctly

    I am thinking correctly however sometimes it sounds so wrong I get confused

    • It is implied that the pronoun it in your sentence refers to the information. In that case, you need the adjective correct. To be clear, you could write either “Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have the correct information,” or “Let me just repeat this to ensure that I have written it correctly.”

  53. Bob Wilkinson says:

    Interestingly, I ended up in a disucussion with a colleague today about the use of bad and badly. Specifically, the question came up with the simple answer to the informal question of, “How’s it going?”

    Now, double negative not withstanding, I am under the impression that the response should be, “not badly,” as “going” would be modified. However, common informal language response is, “not bad.”

    Grammatically, which would be correct?

    • Grammatically speaking, the word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb going. So the sentence “It is not going badly” is one grammatically correct option. But bad would be equally correct. In that case, going is a linking verb, which would take an adjective (compare things are looking bad). In most common everyday verbal interactions, “How’s it going?” is just a polite greeting and is often answered with the shortened informal response, “Not bad.” Most likely what the person means by that response is, “Things are not bad.”

  54. Pam says:

    So is it ” I feel so badly for all my musician friends”? Or
    “I feel so bad for all my musician friends”?

  55. Yohan says:

    I also have a confusion with some of my sentences.

    – He has worked bad/badly ?
    – He has bad/badly work ?

    For me, i think “he has worked badly” because badly is explaining the worked (verb)

    and for the second sentence, he has badly work ?
    Please kindly give your explanation about this.
    Thank you so much

    • The word work can be used as a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, it requires an adverb. It requires an adjective when used as a noun. You could write “He has worked badly,” or “He has done bad work,” but it would be better to say, “He has worked poorly,” or “He has done poor work.”

  56. Abhilash Mathew says:

    I badly needed the meaning of the word “badly”. now i got it. thank u very much.

  57. Caroline says:

    I too go wild when people say “I feel badly about…” instead of “I feel bad”. However, I am having a horrible time deciding which to use in this sentence: “Over the years my apple tree got older and older and finally rotted so badly that it had to be taken down”. Bad or badly ?

  58. Trixie says:

    How about this one?

    Missing my brother so bad? Or
    Missing my borther so badly?

  59. April says:

    Would you say;
    Do you know how BADLY I want to just get up and go home? or Do you know how BAD I want to just get up and go home?

  60. jacqueline Gowe says:

    I am confused about the sentence. AJ did extremely well on the geography test. What would the opposite be? AJ did extremely bad or badly on the geography test.

    • Our blog Bad vs. Badly says, “Adverbs often end in ly. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb.” The verb in your sentence is did. Badly answers how about the verb did. Therefore, “A. J. did badly (or poorly) on the geography test.” (You can see how this opposite sentence is parallel to your first sentence since good is an adjective and well is an adverb.) Since I assume the letters AJ are somebody’s initials, we recommend following Chicago Manual of Style’s rule 10.12 which says, “Initials standing for given names are followed by a period and a space.” Since the Associated Press Stylebook recommends no space, you may see it written that way in newspapers.

      • Chris says:

        Did extremely bad on the test?
        Or did extremely badly?
        You didn’t answer that one fully.
        Did extremely well uses adverb well but the opposite shouldn’t be badly, should it?

        • You still need to use the adverb badly, not the adjective bad. Writing “extremely badly” sounds awkward because of the back-to-back -ly words. It might be better to write “very badly.”

  61. Allan says:

    “I want money so bad I can taste it.”
    “I want money so badly I can taste it.”

    I don’t know the rules. But if you switch the words around:

    “I bad want money I cant taste it.”
    “I badly want money I can taste it.”

    It’s easy to hear which word to use. It’s badly, here.

    • It does make it easier to recognize badly as an adverb when it is next to the verb want. As a mental device, it’s fine. However, if written, follow Rule 1 of Semicolons, which is “Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out.”

      I badly want money; I can taste it.

  62. Kay Mills says:

    I’m so glad to find this site. I was always taught there are very few time the word “badly” can be used. I hear it repeatedly on every TV show on these days and it drives me nuts. People have just decided it is correct grammar to use “badly” as a adverb whereever they please. It is one of my biggest “pet peeves” and I hear it more and more.

    I really feel bad for the writers of today !!!

  63. Justin says:

    I want to tell you so bad that you are wrong. Want is not an action verb… You do not want badly. That would mean your ability to want is flawed, which it is not. The expression “so bad” can be replaced with “to such extent”, in this case he describes a degree of desire, or, more specifically, “want.” Now stop badly helping people.

    • We are unable to find a single authoritative source that lists want as a linking verb. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines badly as “to a great or intense degree .” Obviously, they consider want an action verb rather than a linking or “sense” verb. Bad is also considered acceptable usage as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says, “Bad sometimes acts as an adverb and is interchangeable with badly after the verbs want and need.” Most authorities, however, consider “want bad” to be informal usage. You may also find this discussion useful:

      • Annie Louise says:

        I believe you’re wrong, and you’ve been misadvising people:

        From Mark Nichol, a true grammarian: “That explains why you want something bad, not badly. (To want something badly is to do a poor job of wanting it — almost the opposite meaning.) That’s why you’re not doing too bad, rather than badly, right now. Bad is a condition (a linking verb), not a performance (an action verb).”

        You’ve misunderstood the nature of “want”:

        “Let’s start with badly, which is an adverb. Roughly speaking, an adverb describes how something is done: “She handled the news badly.” Bad, on the other hand, is most familiar to us as an adjective, but what stymies us sometimes is that it can also be an adverb.

        “In adjectival form, bad provides detail about the noun it accompanies: “I have a bad feeling about this.” As an adverb, bad modifies the preceding verb: “Now I don’t feel so bad about it.”

        “If you’re in doubt about which adverbial form to use, test it by replacing badly (or is it bad?) with a synonym, such as poorly. (“She handled the news poorly.”) That looks and sounds right. But would poor work? (“She handled the news poor.”) Definitely not; the form badly is correct.

        “Now test the sentence that uses the adverbial form of bad: “Now I don’t feel too poorly about it,” or “Now I don’t feel too poor about it”? Hmm — I’m not sure. So I’ll try another synonym: “Now I don’t feel too wretchedly about it,” or “Now I don’t feel too wretched about it”? The short form is the clear winner here.

        “But why? What’s different about the two adverbial forms? The issue is complicated by the fact that two types of verbs exist: action verbs and linking verbs. Handled, in the first example above, is an action verb because she handled — she did something. Linking verbs, on the other hand, describe a state of being: I think, therefore I am.

        “One set of verbs that can perform both functions — action and linking — are the sense verbs, including feel. (The others are look, smell, and taste; I’ll discuss the omission of hear later.)”

        • We appreciate your view of the use of bad vs. badly, particularly as conventional grammar has often distinguished the words as you point out. At the same time, language tends to evolve in accepting certain usage that once was avoided.

          Merriam-Webster online currently accepts bad and badly as interchangeable adverbs: “bad: badly (not doing so bad, doesn’t want it bad enough)”

          The American Heritage Dictionary
          further explains that the use of badly with want and need was once considered incorrect, since in these cases it means “very much” rather than “in an inferior manner or condition” or “immorally.” But this use is widespread, even in formal contexts, and is now considered standard.

          Going by these current leading references, we would say that today the two words can be used as adverbs to mean the same thing.

  64. Nancy Grace says:

    How do you know when to use bad and when to use badly?

    • If you want to modify a noun or pronoun, use the adjective bad.
      We had a bad storm.

      If you want to modify a verb that is not a sense verb, use the adverb badly.
      She was hurt badly in the tornado.

      • Jim says:

        In response to Justin, it depends on the definition of the word bad. The original definition of bad is in a negative sense, but using bad in connection with want was more in a Michael Jackson sense as Jane said I believe, intense desire = badly

        • In the Michael Jackson song, the word bad was used as an adjective, as in “I’m bad.” Justin’s argument was that the word want is a linking verb, so using the adjective bad could be justified, making “I want bad” correct.

  65. Mike says:

    Gosh, I am reluctant to mention this, because you are the expert, Jane, and I’m probably about to make a fool of myself. But in the sentence ‘I want money so bad or badly’, I thought ‘want’ was a linking verb (state-of-being verb), and, therefore, the adjective bad must be used. Isn’t the rule that you use adjectives to modify linking verbs and adverbs to modify action verbs?

    Can you help me understand my mistake, please.

    • The word want is not a linking verb. Linking verbs are forms of to be or “sense” verbs such as look, feel, smell, taste, appear, seem, and sound. Adjectives do not modify verbs, but adjectives follow linking verbs and modify the noun that comes after the linking verb.

      I want money so badly.
      The meat tastes bad.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks, Jane. That helps a lot.

      • Robert says:

        I want money so badly.

        This is interesting. I always thought that this would mean that they weren’t very good at wanting money, so I would have used bad.

        • Grammatically speaking, badly is an adverb modifying the verb want. One of the definitions given in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is “to a great or intense degree.” Likewise,‘s definition is “very much; to a great extent or degree: a house badly in need of repair; to want something badly.”

          There is also an interesting definition of the word bad on It is listed as an “informal” adverb meaning “badly.” The example is “He wanted it bad enough to steal it. ” We would not recommend using it this way in formal writing.

      • Wrik says:

        Which is correct – “I want to watch that movie bad” or “I want to watch that movie badly”

  66. Shawn says:

    Thanks for the examples. However, I have one that I’m not sure of.

    “I want money so bad I can taste it.”
    “I want money so badly I can taste it.”

    Which of the two is correct? If my guess is correct, the first sentence should be used as “want” is a state of being/mind (right?).

    • You need to use a word that describes the verb want. The word badly is an adverb that answers how about the verb want.
      I want money so badly I can taste it.

      NOTE: Please see our update below dated November 9, 2017.

      • AlanWake says:

        I don’t know if this page is still available. I wanna know it is “I WANT IT BAD” or “I WANT IT BADLY” .I am a foreigner. I found in many songs using “bad”.Is that for the rhyme or another usage?

      • We want to thank readers who have written recently commenting on our above response. We would now like to bring your attention to this additional information:

        Merriam-Webster online currently accepts bad and badly as interchangeable adverbs: “bad: badly (not doing so bad, doesn’t want it bad enough)”

        The American Heritage Dictionary further explains that the use of badly with want and need was once considered incorrect, since in these cases it means “very much” rather than “in an inferior manner or condition” or “immorally.” But this use is widespread, even in formal contexts, and is now considered standard.

        Going by these current leading references, we would say that today the two words can be used as adverbs to mean the same thing.

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