Copy Editor’s Corner | Adverbs Badverbs

Copy Editor’s Corner | Adverbs Badverbs

How many times has someone “corrected” you when you’ve said, “I feel bad,” telling you it should be “I feel badly”?

When people are overcorrected they begin to feel a bit paranoid that they’re never right, and that it’s never okay to say “I feel bad” when they feel guilty about something.

But it is not really correct to say “I feel badly” unless you mean “I have a poor sense of touch.” And how many people can say that and actually mean it? Badly and well are both adverbs (they are added to a verb to modify its meaning), while bad and good are adjectives. A person can do something badly or well, or she can feel bad or good.

Ellen cooks bad and Jamie listens good are obviously grammatically incorrect. It’s helpful to plug tricky words into other sentences to see if they make sense – a technique copy editors sometimes use when they get stuck.

Alison Dotson