Do You Smell Bad or Badly?

Here’s something that writers often mix up. When you use verbs that express a state of being rather than an action, like become, feel, seem, smell, sound, taste, you follow them with an adjective, so they are not treated like adverbs. Do you remember the rule about adverbs—they usually have ly at the end? Here’s how you use these types of verbs:

I am fine, he became sad, she feels bad [not badly], they felt ill, you seem happy.

If you say “the fish smells bad,” you mean it stinks. If you say “the fish smells badly,” it means the fish has a poor sense of smell.

If you say “I feel bad,” it means you are sad or sorry. If you say “I feel badly,” it means your fingers are not very sensitive and you can’t tell what you are touching.

If you say “I look different than you,” it means we don’t look alike. But if I say “I look differently than you,” it means my way of looking is not the same as your way.

11 Responses to “Do You Smell Bad or Badly?”

  1. Sara Baysinger June 1, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Thanks! That’s a lot of help!

  2. valerie June 1, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Good reminder, and fun way of remembering!

  3. TC Avey June 1, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    I hadn’t thought about this in a while, thanks for the refresher! I’m sure I’m guilty of doing this.

  4. Liz Blackmore June 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    What a difference a little twist of a word can make! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Harry June 1, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Hi,Susanne, brilliantly informative site!
    I have been reading on group sites the good and bad of writing the outline for a story.
    Personally, my first attempt at a novel started with an idea one day which snowballed. I just kept writing and things seemed to flow. The only problem being that i had to keep checking back, especially if I’d not written for days. My second attempt is more structured but I allow myself to stray and still be creative.I suppose the best thing would be to have an idea where your characters are headed and just let it flow!Right and wrong way?

    • cslakin June 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Hi Harry, and thanks. I’m a big believer in plotting (you will get some posts on that during the year) but although it’s important to really know what story your novel is telling and who the characters truly are, you should allow for creativity and inspiration. Many novels of mine are full of scenes I never saw coming, but when I got to certain points, the scenes presented themselves organically growing out of the themes and plot. So I feel it’s important to at least know some basics about what story you are telling and why, but allow some room. An outline is a great idea. I often use index card for scenes, and outline at least 30-40 scenes in the book. I’ll just add and adjust as I go, but I stay on course with the plot.

  6. Jane Carroll June 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Great post. Tonight I actually feel bad and badly…I hate when that happens!

  7. Dane Zeller June 3, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    “Excellent post,” he said, writing finely.

  8. Patti Mallett June 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Great post, thanks! These little reminders are always helpful!!

    Love the conversation with Harry, too!!

  9. Aline Lefrancois September 20, 2018 at 11:30 am #

    “I feel badly” is an expression so it does not follow that rule:
    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/badly
    Check the third definition.

    Also, I would say “I am bad at feeling.” to mean that I am not good at feeling emotions.
    So, “feeling” is not necessarily about your sense of touch, otherwise, you couldn’t say “I feel sick.”
    If my fingers could not feel anything, I would say “There is something wrong with my sense of touch. I can’t feel anything.” or “I can barely feel anything” or “I am having trouble feeling the ….” whatever I am trying to feel, because if I don’t mention my fingers, my sense of touch or a concrete item that I could touch, then people would take “I am having trouble feeling”. to be an emotional problem.

    • cslakin September 22, 2018 at 3:57 pm #

      It may be an expression somewhere to someone, but it’s still wrong. I often say “my dog is laying down” because I am not thinking about the accurate use of “to lie.” A character might use incorrect grammar because of the way he was taught, but the writer of a piece shouldn’t make mistakes.

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