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I feel bad for writing this…

Posted by Maria Murnane | August 7, 2012

But I don’t feel bad enough to write badly.

I have a friend who has a pet phrase. When she feels compassion or sympathy for a person, she often says “I feel badly.” I bite my tongue every time she says this, because it’s wrong. (By the way, my friend went to Harvard, so don’t feel bad if you are guilty of this error too.) As demonstrated in the previous sentence, the correct way to express sentiment is “I feel bad.”

To understand when to use bad vs. badly, let me give a quick lesson on transitive and intransitive verbs:

Transitive verbs require a direct object to complete a sentence:

  • I buy the cat.
  • I touch the cat.
  • I pet the cat.

Intransitive verbs require no object to complete a sentence:

  • You smell.
  • I sleep.
  • He died.

“Feel” can be a transitive or intransitive verb depending on its intended meaning. In the case of my friend, it is an intransitive verb. She’s not actually touching something, like a cat’s fur, so “bad” is the correct adjective to describe her state of mind. “Badly” is an adverb to describe an action, and adverbs are used only with transitive verbs. So if she’s terrible at feeling the cat’s fur, then she could say she feels badly. Got it?

How bad did THIS guy feel?

Back in January I watched an important college football game where the poor kicker missed three field goals, including one that could have won the game as time ran out. Instead of being the hero of the day, however, he kicked badly. And he definitely felt bad as a result, because his team lost.

Too bad.

-Maria

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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