Which is correct—“I feel bad” or “I feel badly”—when asked “how do you feel?”
I know “bad” is an adjective and “badly” is an adverb. However, I wasn’t sure which was correct in this case. So, I was interested in the entry for “Bad, badly” in Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. Would it clarify the conflict of bad vs. badly?
Bernstein’s take on bad vs. badly
Bernstein says “bad” is correct because “’Feel’ is a copulative verb, equivalent in meaning to ‘am,’ and therefore is followed by an adjectival form (bad), not an adverbial form (badly).”
Copulative verb? I don’t remember hearing that term before.
I turned to Garner’s Modern American Usage for his take. Garner says, “When someone is sick or unhappy, that person feels bad—not badly. In this phrase, feel is a linking verb, which takes a predicate adjective instead of an adverb.”
Predicate adjective is another unfamiliar term. But, I’m relieved to find that Bernstein and Garner agree on “feel bad.”
Garner cites a number of cases where major newspapers incorrectly used “feel badly” instead of “feel bad.” So, if you sometimes use the wrong form, you have company. (However, if you ever read my Mistake Monday posts, you know that newspapers make plenty of mistakes.)
Garner’s “Language-Change Index” estimates that the incorrect use of “feel badly” is at Stage 2, in which “The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage.” (My copy of Garners dates back to 2009. The stage may have changed since then.)
Now, how do you feel?
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Are contractions good or bad in formal writing?
I’ve had several clients whose style guidelines don’t allow the use of contractions. For my part, I didn’t believe in contractions at the start of my investment writing career. That’s what I’d learned in my high school English classes. I remember “fixing” all of the contractions in a portfolio manager’s commentary when I worked at Batterymarch Financial Management. However, I am now a fan of contractions.
Style guides for contractions
I found a statement against avoiding contractions in Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Benjamin Dreyer says of the rule against contractions:
This may be a fine rule to observe if you learned English on your native Mars, but there’s not a goshdarn thing wrong with “don’t,” “can’t,” “wouldn’t,” and all the rest of them that people naturally use, and without them many a piece would turn out stilted and would turn out stilted and wooden… Contractions are why God invented the apostrophe, so make good use of both.
Bryan Garner agrees in Garner’s Modern American Usage. He says of contractions, “…why shouldn’t writers use them in most types of writing?”
Garner also says, “The common fear is that using contractions can make the writing seem breezy. For most of us, though, that risk is nil. What you gain should be a relaxed sincerity—not breeziness.” He cites several authorities on writing to support his opinion.
Style guides against contractions
The online AP Stylebook (subscription required) says, “Avoid excessive use of contractions. Contractions listed in the dictionary are acceptable, however, in informal contexts where they reflect the way a phrase commonly appears in speech or writing.”
The Grammar Bible says, “Contractions may be appropriate and expeditious in casual writing, but they are to be avoided in more formal documents.”
Both Dreyer and Garner warn against more casual contractions, such as “should’ve,” which Garner calls a “casualism.”
What do YOU think about contractions?
I’m sure you use contractions in your daily speech, and probably even in your blog posts. But what about a white paper? It depends on your firm’s style.
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Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment.
This mistake is too common.
I post these challenges to raise awareness of the importance of proofreading.
NOTE: As of September, Mistake Monday will only be published once a month, on the last Monday of the month (for example, Monday, Sept. 30). I hope that you’ll continue to test your proofreading skills on Mistake Mondays.
Can you spot what’s wrong in the image below? Please post your answer as a comment. If proofreaders use this technique, they’d catch more errors like this.