Feel strongly and feel badly



Why is it correct to say "I feel strongly" but not OK to say "I feel badly"?

Posted 14 July 2002


In "I feel strongly," strongly is an adverb modifying feel. This use of feel means "to be conscious of a specified kind or quality of physical, mental, or emotional state: felt warm and content; feels strongly about the election."* A synonym of strongly here would be intensely.

The correct and logical way, as you note, to express that you feel sad or disturbed is to say "I feel bad," not "badly." In this case, feel is a copulative, or linking, verb similar to be. These verbs are followed by adjectives, not adverbs. Other common verbs like be and feel are appear, become, get, look, seem, smell, sound, taste, etc.:

The weather was terrible yesterday.
I saw John. He appeared confused.
Mary worked too hard and got sick.
You look happy today!
Your answer seems correct. Let's check it out.
Mm! It smells delicious! What is it?
That sounds good. I'll see you at 6 then.
I'm really sorry. I feel very bad about saying that. Please accept my apology.

If you say "I feel badly," it would mean, literally, that you have little normal feeling in the nerve endings of your fingers, and so your fingers can't properly perform their function of feeling. It would be like "I run too slowly/ badly to be in the race," or "I can't hear well - I hear badly - please speak louder." Badly in this case would be an adverb. The sentence "I feel badly," meant in this sense, would be very rarely spoken.

You sometimes hear "I feel badly" instead of "I feel bad." The speaker may be trying to be very correct or may think that "bad" is close in meaning to "evil" or "wicked." Whatever the case, "I feel bad" means "I feel sad / disturbed / unhappy / disappointed/ guilty." "I feel strongly" means "I feel intensely."


*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.

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