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I was saying to an American friend, "I pronounce still bad," which she said is a mistake, saying it should be poorly.

Well, I get that part, but when I asked if I can say badly, she said I shouldn't. I asked an Englishman and he said it's perfectly fine. So is it a difference between American English and British English, or am I just not getting it?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The NOAD reports that the first meaning of poorly is "in a way or at a level that is considered inadequate," while the first meaning of badly is "in an unsatisfactory, inadequate, or unsuccessful way."

The NOAD has also a note about the usage of bad.

Confusion in the use of bad versus badly usually has to do with verbs called copulas, such as feel or seem. Thus, standard usage calls for I feel bad, not I feel badly. As a precise speaker or writer would explain, I feel badly means "I do not have a good sense of touch."

There is a slight difference between poorly, and badly: Poorly should be used when something is considered inadequate, while badly should be used to when something is inadequate.

I work in a badly managed company.
He spelt a few poorly articulated words.

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so I guess as I said it in a self-reflective manner based on my observation (I mean I know that I do not follow a standard pronunciation), I could say badly, right? –  Sebastian Godelet Mar 23 '11 at 7:20
    
When referring to pronunciation, I would say poorly. –  kiamlaluno Mar 23 '11 at 8:09
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To me (UK) both "badly" and "poorly" are acceptable, but "badly" sounds a more harsh judgment, "poorly" a gentler one. –  Colin Fine Mar 23 '11 at 11:32

In colloquial English English, as opposed to American English, "I feel poorly" means "I feel ill." It is connected exclusively to one's health. If, for example, it were used to express poor tactile sense it would have some qualifying word or phrase; eg. "I feel things very poorly with my fingers."

Some dialects might use "badly" in the same way, but generally this is used of emotions, as when one has hurt someone's feelings one might say, "I feel very badly about that.

"Badly" can be used in other ways, such as "The motor repairs were done very badly," (In an unsatisfactory manner.)

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Whether you use "bad/badly" vs. "poor/poorly", I don't think there's much difference in this context. They both are grammatical and understandable here as "I still do not pronounce well".

There is a trend in American English to drop 'ly' so that something that acts like an adverb instead looks like an adjective. So

I talk bad

is OK

This is similar to saying

I don't talk too good

where 'well' the adverb is replaced by 'good' the adjective.

(which is classic 'ungrammatical' speech but is what people might say acceptably in a very colloquial/low register setting.)

One most likely would not use 'poor' in this context because it would really stand out as weird ('poor' in this meaning of 'not good' is not particularly common in American English).

"I pronounce poorly", "I pronounce badly", and "I pronounce bad" are all fine in AmE, the last one not so much only because "pronounce", as a more technical word, is of higher register than "bad" and so it sounds incongruous.

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I have to admit that as a Brit, my immediate reaction to "I talk bad" is "Yes. Yes, you do." :-) –  user1579 Mar 23 '11 at 15:41
    
@Rhodri: that's the annoying thing about grammar, there's a difference between what you should do and what you really do. "I talk bad" definitely sounds like fingernails across a blackboard to me, and I believe a teacher at school should take off points for using it, but it is a purely legal grammatical construct for some speakers/registers of AmE. –  Mitch Mar 23 '11 at 16:04
    
If you're not a native, I wouldn't advise going about dropping 'ly' at random from adverbs in American English. There are a lot of rules about when you can and can't do it that I think I intuitively know but I certainly don't understand. You'll end up sounding bad. –  Peter Shor Nov 14 '11 at 22:17
    
@PeterShor: do you have some examples? I don't doubt them, it's just that talking and listening lately, I feel like in informal talk, nothing has '-ly' anymore. Maybe with technical words? But then you're almost by default not talking informally. –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 22:19
    
Yes. You can certainly say "He drives slow". But if you say "He slow drove down the street, looking for the correct house," it sounds absolutely terrible to my ear. –  Peter Shor Nov 14 '11 at 22:22

The word 'still' must be placed after "I" : I still pronounce...

However, it's much better to say: My pronunciation is still poor / bad.

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well I'm aware that I should/could say it differently, I was more wondering about the difference between poor and bad in this context. Thanks for the "still" anyway, after asking this question I even more think that my English is awful. –  Sebastian Godelet Mar 23 '11 at 10:50

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