Mixed Doubles: Bad/Badly and Well/Good

Woe-Is-I-3rdedPart of chapter five in Patricia O’Conner’s book on English grammar and word usage, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead Books, New York, c.1996), contains a section headed by the phrase “mixed doubles.” It has to do with words that are commonly confused or mixed up, because they are close in spelling and sometimes in meaning.

A month ago we featured some of these for our “Word Wednesday” feature and today we do the same. This set is quite commonly confused, so let’s see what she has to say about the proper use of “bad” and “badly”:

bad/badly. When it’s an activity being described, use badly, the adverb (a word that describes a verb; many adverbs, you’ll notice, end in ly). When it’s a condition or a passive state being described, use bad, the adjective (a word that describes a noun). Ollie ran the race badly; afterward, he looked bad and he smelled bad. If the difference still eludes you, try mentally substituting a pair of words less likely to be confused: Ollie ran the race honestly; afterward he looked honest and he smelled honest.

The same logic applies for well and good. When it’s an activity being described, use well, the adverb (As you can see, not all adverbs end in ly). When it’s a condition or a passive state being described, use good, the adjective. Stan sang well; at the recital he looked good and he sounded good.

Note: There’s a complication with well. It’s a two-faced word that can be an adjective as well as an adverb. As an adjective, it means healthy (Ollie feels well.), 91-92.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 6:32 AM  Leave a Comment  

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