How idiomatic is "He cooks badly" vs. "He doesn't cook well" & "He cooks poorly"?

  • The third would probably be said by cannibals Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 11:09
  • 2
    I don't think many Anglophones would normally "grade" the verb to cook like this in the first place. The only really common modification to the verb form is straightforward negation - He can't cook. We tend to adjectivally modify the noun, as in She's a terrible cook, He's a good cook. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 12:02
  • ...with more "naturally" qualified verbs, such as to write [books], to play [an instrument], to drive [a car], all OP's suggested adverbial modifications are fine (but poorly can be a bit dated / literary). Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


All three forms appear to be equally idiomatic but the last is not used often.

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It must taken into account that there are quite a few false positives in the result for "cooks poorly".

(ref. 1, 1992) Whoever cooks according to rules other than the proper ones for cooking, cooks poorly. But whoever follows rules other than those for chess plays another game;

(ref. 2, 2002) Gradually he adjusts to Aunt Joan who cleans obsessively and cooks poorly. He even realizes that his wimpy cousin Wesley isn't all that bad,

(ref. 3, 1989) Damaged cassava cooks poorly and often tastes unpleasant; tannins may also bind to proteins in the gut, preventing their absorption. (Notice that here, "to cook" means "undergo the process of being cooked")

(ref. 4, 1979) A woman who cooks poorly is “ a woman of heavy bread ” . A person ' s character is also described in terms of bread

It is possible that when "to cook" means "undergo the process of being cooked" the adverb "poorly" should be preferred, but that is just a flitting impression of mine, I can't verify that as a fact.

  • Probably “not good at cooking” is more idiomatic. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 12:10
  • @user 66974 Idiomaticity and frequency should not be confused; “not good at cooking” is more frequent; it cannot be said that "rare" is necessarily unidiomatic.
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 13, 2021 at 8:11

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