How Do You Feel?
by Cherie Tucker
you are upset, you feel bad. If you have Novocain in your
fingers and can’t tell that you are touching the keyboard, you feel
badly. Many people confuse these two, so let’s clear this
one up. (Brace yourself. There may be grammatical terminology.)
The verbs that describe how our other senses work, e.g., taste,
smell, etc., are not as easily confused. For example, consider the
sense of smell. It is easy to differentiate someone who smells
bad because he hasn’t bathed from someone who smells badly
because he has a cold. The same pattern works for the sense of
taste. You might say, “This cake tastes bad,” meaning that
the flavor is off. If you said, “This cake tastes badly,”
well never mind, cakes can’t taste.
With “feel,” however, you first have to decide if you are talking
about tactile feelings or emotional feelings. If you have a coin in
your pocket and you can’t tell if it is a penny or a dime by just
fingering it, you feel badly. Your ability to discern
something by touch is impaired. The feeling is done badly, (which
is an adverb that tells how, when, why, or where something was
If, on the other hand, you are upset or blue, then you feel
bad. This one may take some explanation, so follow along. In
this instance you are not describing your ability to detect
something by touch, you are describing your emotional feeling, which
when you are blue is a bad feeling. Here bad is an
adjective, a word that describes things. In this instance, the
adjective does not come right before the word it’s describing, as
adjectives regularly do. Instead it appears in the latter part of
the sentence (the predicate), after the verb “feel.” Nevertheless,
it is still an adjective, a predicate adjective (I warned
you), describing how your emotions are at the moment.
To quote from the Gregg Reference Manual, “The only way you
can ‘feel badly’ is to have your fingertips removed first.” So
remember, emotionally you can feel good or bad, not goodly or badly.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits