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?

6 Answers 6


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 when something is inadequate.

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

  • 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? Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 7:20
  • When referring to pronunciation, I would say poorly.
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 8:09
  • 4
    To me (UK) both "badly" and "poorly" are acceptable, but "badly" sounds a more harsh judgment, "poorly" a gentler one.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 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.)


My grandmother corrected me on saying badly I think because it implied doing wrong whereas poorly meant it was not up to par or sufficient. As I think about it there are probably more adequate words like insuffciently that would be clearer in meaning. Anyway whether right or wrong, I cringe when I hear someone say they are performing badly. It hurts my ears.


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.

  • 3
    I have to admit that as a Brit, my immediate reaction to "I talk bad" is "Yes. Yes, you do." :-)
    – user1579
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 16:04
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    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. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 22:17
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    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. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 22:22
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    I don't think it's the formality. "They fell in love" can certainly be in an informal register, but "They fell slow in love," sounds really bad to me (although it's fine with "slowly"). Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 22:47

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

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

  • 1
    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. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 10:50
  • Answer off topic.
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 23:08

Either "I feel poorly" or "I feel badly" would be a grammatically incorrect way to express anything other than a handicap. If you were trying to express that you felt ill, you'd do better to say, "I feel unwell." Or, if trying to express guilt or remorse, "I feel bad" would be correct.

Yes, I know the general rule is that adverbs describe verbs and adjectives describe nouns; however, in this case, the adjective "bad" isn't describing the verb "feel," but rather the subject pronoun "I." In other words, you're implying, "I feel [like a] bad [person]."

Although most of us would shy away from going so far as to say, "I feel evil," that would make much more sense than saying, "I feel evilly."

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