Grammar: When to use “bad” and “badly” in English Does the food taste bad or badly? Does the flower smell bad or badly? Does he play guitar bad or badly? If you’re not sure which of these fundamental words to use in these situations, watch this grammar lesson to erase your doubts. In it, I look at when to use adjectives and when to use adverbs. After this, you can apply the rules for bad and badly to other adjectives and adverbs.Take the quiz on this lesson here:


Hi, guys. I’m Alex. Thanks for clicking, and welcome to this lesson on “bad” vs “badly”. Now, this lesson is a complement to a past lesson that I did on “good” vs. “well”. And with “bad” vs. “badly”, it’s actually a very similar kind of case.

So very simply, first, let’s look at the parts of speech that “bad” and “badly” represent. As I have written here, “bad” is an adjective, which means that it describes either a state of something or someone or a feeling, okay? So think of states and perceptions, feelings, with “bad”. “Badly” is an adverb. Now, again, an adverb usually modifies a verb. It can also modify adjectives and other adverbs — generally verbs, though. And it describes how you do, how you perform, or how you react to something, okay?

On the board, I have a variety of different sentences, and in all of them, you have to decide whether I should be using “bad” or “badly” to complete the sentence. So as we go through this, just always use these two definitions as a personal reference, okay?

Sentence No. 1 says, “He felt bad/badly about missing her birthday.” So what do you think? “He felt badly about missing her birthday” or “He felt bad about missing her birthday”? If we go back to the rules, if we’re talking about feelings, it’s always “bad”, okay? “He felt bad.” Now, if I said, “He felt badly about missing her birthday”, this would mean that you’re modifying the verb “felt”, and you’re actually trying to say that he felt “badly”, like his sense, his perception of feeling, of touch, is very poor, which doesn’t make the sentence make any sense, okay?

So second sentence says, “She did bad/badly on her chemistry exam.” So let’s look back here. How you do/perform/react to something. Okay. How did she do on her chemistry exam? “She did badly.” She performed badly. Okay? “I twisted my ankle.” Okay. How did you twist your ankle? Well, really, really badly. Okay? So “bad” or “badly”, actually. And I think I gave you the answer, so — how did she twist her ankle? The quality of the injury. “She twisted it badly.” When she twisted it in the moment of the action, it was really bad, so she did it badly, she did the action badly, okay? Sorry. I’m repeating myself a lot. “Bad”, “badly” — you will be sick of hearing these words by the end of this lesson.

Next one: “He is a bad singer” or “He is a badly singer”? Now, again, a singer, a person who sings a song, [sings “lah lah lah”], etc., and we’re talking about the state of this person. What kind of singer is he? So we’re modifying “singer”, so “He is a bad singer.” Now, remember: “badly” — there’s no verb here that you’re modifying, right? You can’t really modify the verb “to be” in this situation with “badly”. You can’t say, “He is badly” just by itself, okay?

So next one: “They felt bad” or “They felt badly about coming late.” If we go back to the rules — feelings, right? So how do you feel? You feel bad. Internal state. “They felt bad about coming late.” So they came to a meeting. They came to a party, a movie, something — oh, sorry. I feel bad about that, okay? Next one: “She danced bad” or “She danced badly at her recital”. So maybe she dances ballet, and they had a performance. A performance is like a recital. And she danced — you’re talking about the quality of her dancing. So how you perform something — how you do something is, in this situation, “badly”. So how did she dance? “She danced badly.”

Now, “This tastes bad” or “This tastes badly”? Now, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about — “this”, whatever it is, whether it’s a soup, a sandwich, a hamburger, a steak; doesn’t matter. You’re talking about the state of the thing. You’re talking about the flavor, the taste, the internal state, okay? So when we go back here, “This tastes bad.” Now, again, if we said, “This tastes badly”, the meaning would be that — let’s imagine it’s a steak. So this means that the steak can eat other things and that the steak tastes things badly, okay? It means that it doesn’t have a sense of taste, that the steak can’t taste things very well because its tongue is not good, okay? So you can imagine the image is not very appetizing I guess. I wouldn’t want to eat a steak that was talking. Although before it’s a steak, it’s a cow, but that’s another topic. Let’s not get into that.

And finally, “Their reasons didn’t seem so bad.” Okay, so here, the topic, the subject, is their reasons, their reasons for doing something.

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