In America things are going very badly. There is a great deal of unemployment and enough misery to soften the heart of a tiger. Those responsible could not care less.

Is the word "badly" used properly? I would use "bad". "Bad" here describes the pronoun "things". Or not?

  • 1
    The word "things" is a plural noun, not a pronoun. Pronouns are special words like "I", "him", or "yours".
    – James K
    Aug 28 '17 at 21:32
  • 1
    In British English, "the boy done good" is a cliché comment made by semi-literate sport team managers in an interview, when asked about the performance of a new team member. But that doesn't make it "British English" - it's still semi-(il)iterate. Note to add to the confusion - in some parts of the UK "badly" is also an adjective meaing "ill" - as in "Where is John today?" "He didn't come, he was feeling badly" (which has nothing do to with his lack of tactile ability!)
    – alephzero
    Aug 28 '17 at 23:50

Compare these two sentences, where the adjective "bad" refers to the noun eggs.

The eggs are going bad. (correct)

The eggs are going badly.

Consider these two sentences, where the adverb "badly" is applicable to the participle going.

The event is going bad.

The event is going badly. (correct)

Edit — thanks for the upvotes.

My second example could be ambiguous. This sentence

The event is going badly.

means the event is a disappointment, the adverb badly means the event is not going well. But

The event is going bad.

means something drastic is happening, and the adjective bad now refers to the event itself - as in the earlier egg example.

  • 1
    So... "The event is going badly" might mean the singers are terrible, and "The event is going bad" might mean people are rioting?
    – corsiKa
    Aug 28 '17 at 22:10
  • @corsiKa indeed. Aug 28 '17 at 22:34
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    "The eggs are going badly" could also be correct BrE, meaning something like "my attempt at cooking the eggs is not working out the way I planned it should happen." (Similar to the second example of "badly," of course)
    – alephzero
    Aug 28 '17 at 23:52

"Badly" is correct. It is an adverb and modifies "going".

You could say "In America, things are bad", but once you add "going" you need an adverb. That's because, in the first sentence, "bad" is modifying "things" not "are". It's the things that are bad, not their manner of being.

  • What you say is absolutely true, but can you explain why to the OP? Why is it "things are bad", but "things go badly"? I mean, both "are" and "go" are verbs, so where does the difference come from?.
    – Mr Lister
    Aug 29 '17 at 10:00

Went bad => Became rotten (e.g. the eggs went bad)

Went badly => Did not go according to plan (e.g. the sale of artwork went badly)

There are cases where you could use either, but with different meanings: "the cakes went bad" => they became mouldy, "the cakes went badly" => they did not sell well.


Since adverbs usually describe verbs in terms of *how, when, where, manner, what extent ...etc *, adjectives describe nouns by adding some descriptions or classifications. Badly is an adverb and describes how things are going. If you want to use the adjective bad, you can use it before or after the noun which conveys a different meaning ; *the bad things ,,,, * or *the things are bad * for example.

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