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I think that "I feel badly that he is sick" is correct because the word badly modifies the verb FEEL: How I feel. Someone suggested that "I feel bad that he is sick" is correct because the word BAD goes back on ME--not on my feeling. Can someone explain which is correct and why?

  • There is a difference. Badly, in this context, means strongly, as in "I feel badly [strongly] that we need some new policies." – Mick Nov 14 '16 at 16:20
  • This is a common error one hears all the time. Here "feel" is a form of "being" verb, creating an equivalence. If you are wearing very thick gloves, you might "feel badly" because your fingers are not touching the surface; however, you "feel bad" because someone else is suffering, not "badly." If I'm wrong about this, someone will come along and correct me momentarily. ;-) – Mark Hubbard Nov 14 '16 at 16:24
  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Khan Nov 14 '16 at 23:36
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Please refer to this post on ELU

In general, the verb "to feel" will take an adjective when describing the actual feeling (what you feel), and an adverb if modifying the ability to or process of feeling.

I feel bad about the results of the election.

I feel strongly about the results of the election.

For this reason, you will rarely see "feel" followed by "badly" because of the confusion over what exactly you are trying to say. Instead of saying "I feel badly" (to indicate loss of feeling), we would say something like:

I have trouble feeling ...

I lack feeling (in my ...)

I'm unable to feel ...

In the same way we would usually say "I feel good", and not "I feel well".

Of course there are many who will argue that this is improper English and insist on using the adverb (I feel poorly, I feel well, etc.) to describe their current physical condition. I can't say this is wrong, but, at least these days, it is not typical

[Edit] In the novel I'm currently reading, one of the British characters says, "I'm sorry you feel badly about ..." So perhaps you can use "bad" if you want to sound more American, and "badly" if you want to sound more British? We can ask an Australian as a tie-breaker.

  • It's not wrong, for the reasons you give. People who think otherwise don't understand the difference between an adverb and a complement. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 14 '16 at 18:03
  • despite your point, "I feel well" is actually grammatical because well is also an adjective meaning "to be in good health" thus "I feel well" contrasts with "I feel sick/ill"; in general what you feel is a complement (adjective or less commonly a noun) and how you feel is an adverb. In some cases, the distinction can be a bit unclear. – eques Nov 15 '16 at 14:39
  • @eques the point isn't that "I feel well" is wrong, it's that some people say that "I feel good" is absolutely incorrect and should never be used. – Andrew Nov 15 '16 at 15:30
  • That's not what your sentence about "I feel well" says. – eques Nov 15 '16 at 16:10
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sense verbe, feel strongly have a definite or strong opinion about sthg To describe the quality somethin

I feel badly that he's sick.

I feel bad that he's sick.

Both the sentences are correct grammatically, but the use of the adjective bad in front of the sense verb "feel" is more common and idiomatic.

(strangely enough, according to The Free Dictionary, badly is also an adjective. I feel badly for his loss).

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