What is the correct usage? Apparently it is "I feel badly", but but wouldn't that mean you have an inadequate ability to feel?


6 Answers 6


Assuming you're talking about a situation where something bad has happened to your friend, and you're saying you feel unhappy on their behalf, then "I feel bad for you" is correct.

You are right that "I feel badly" would mean you are having difficulty in feeling at all - which would be a rather unusual thing to say :)

In general the verb "to feel" will take an adjective (happy, sad, good, bad, angry, relieved) after it to indicate the feeling, rather than an adverb.

  • So, in most cases, "I feel bad" would be correct? Is there a use for "I feel badly" except for when saying you are unable to feel at all?
    – awesomeguy
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 21:44
  • 1
    @awesomeguy: The word "badly" can be used as an intensifier, so "I feel badly in need of a drink" means that you really really need one. (This is where @Emre's suggestion that it could just about mean "I am attracted to you" comes from: it would mean not just "I feel for you", but "I feel for you, a lot" - but it ends up sounding a little strange and awkward, hence the "teen-speak" comment :). But saying "I feel badly" on its own (without specifying what you feel) sounds very strange.
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 22:05
  • Semantically, there is no issue here. The idea is that you have a bad feeling. Neither the adverb, nor the adjective are perfectly accurate. "I feel bad" puts the bad property onto you (contrast with "I feel inadequate") and "I feel badly" puts it onto feel, rather than the feeling. (Can you even separate the feeling state from the feeling action?) In some languages, it is grammatical to use an adverb. The point is that semantics cannot provide a satisfactory explanation why the chosen syntax is adverb versus adjective. It's just the way it is.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 3:15
  • Re: "But saying "I feel badly" on its own (without specifying what you feel) sounds very strange" -- Can't saying just "I feel badly" mean the same as "I feel poorly" / "I feel in a bad state"? Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 4:19
  • @MrReality: No, that's not idiomatic - you'd say "I feel bad". ("Poorly" in that context is an adjective, not the adverb form of "poor").
    – psmears
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 10:24

Certain verbs like feel, smell, and taste take adjectives as complements, not adverbs. If you use an adverb with them, it changes the sense altogether, because it now modifies the verb rather than serving as a predicate complement describing the subject.

  • Sour milk tastes bad. Honey tastes good.
  • I feel bad that I didn’t go. I feel good about that.
  • Those flowers smell good. That sewer smells bad.

Contast with:

  • He tastes poorly because he’s burnt his tongue.
  • My fingers feel badly when I have gloves on.
  • A man with no nose smells poorly if at all.

So you can have a dog that smells bad but like all dogs, he nonetheless smells well.

  • Wow. This answer has been absorbed so I can regurgitate it at parties. Really good arguments.
    – Gray
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 17:11

"I feel badly for you" sounds like teen-speak for "I am attracted to you". You probably meant "I feel bad for you".


You cannot use badly as a verb. It will always be an adverb. In those two sentences, feel is your verb, which links an adjective (in this case bad) to the subject. Badly would be used to describe how something was done.

I feel bad for her.

She was hurt badly.


I think you can substitute the word sad for the word bad and it is then easier to get a better understanding of the use for bad. Clear?


Badly is an adverb and explains how something was done.

She was hurt badly.

Bad is an adjective and describes a noun.

She is a bad driver.

Since the word being modified is "feel" (a verb), the proper modifier is "badly" (an adverb).

This is essentially the same as the difference between using "good" and "well".

  • I feel well.
  • I am in good health.

Well modifies the verb feel while good modifies the noun health.

  • In my case I am using badly as a verb. I feel badly for her. Am I correct? Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 2:10
  • 1
    No. In "I feel badly for her", "badly" is an adverb and so it modifies "feel".
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 3:05
  • That's right, Kaz.
    – elimac82
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 2:36
  • 2
    "I feel good" is perfectly grammatical. There's even a song every person on this planet can sing along. At any rate it's completely off-topic here, and in fact there's a separate question for "good" vs. "well". So I recommend simply removing that bit as you're just shooting yourself in the foot here.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 8:42
  • As well as what Reg says - feel is a copula in I feel good (or I feel well) so joins an adjective to a person. Commented May 1, 2012 at 9:53

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