Bad vs. Badly

What is the difference?

There are many pairs of confusing words in English. Bad and badly are two commonly confused words in the English language. When and how do you use each one?

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here to get the English Short Stories Book and Workbook


Bad is an adjective. An adjective is a word that describes a person, place, or thing.

Definitions of bad:
  • opposite of good
  • poor quality
  • not healthy, or painful
In English, bad is often used after linking verbs such as
These sentences are correct:
  • The house is in bad condition after the fire.
  • This seems like a bad book.
  • Your English isn't so bad.
  • He will become a bad dog if you don't train him.
  • It was a bad report card.
  • Her health is pretty bad.
  • I have a bad back.
These sentences are incorrect:
  • The children performed bad on the worksheet.
  • You don't speak English bad.
  • Nick sings bad.
  • The painter paints bad.
bad report card

It is a bad report card.

He performed badly on the test.


Badly is an adverb. Adverbs describe actions.

Definitions of badly:
  • in a bad way
  • very much
  • severely or seriously
Badly is often used after action verbs. Action verbs describe activity or movement.

These sentences are correct:
  • We played badly and lost the game.
  • She sang badly.
  • She wanted the job badly.
  • Was John hurt badly in the accident?
  • The table was badly damaged. 
These sentences are incorrect:
  • He spoke badly French.
  • I had a dream badly.
  • It was badly news.
  • He looks badly after the fight.

Take the quiz!

Action verb or linking verb?

Is it an action verb or a linking verb? Some verbs can be used as action verbs and linking verbs in different sentences.

Action verbs are usually easier to use and understand. Action verbs show activity or movement.

  • Example: I kick the ball.

    In this example, the action verb is kick. Kick is a movement.

Linking verbs connect the subject of the sentence to information about that subject.

  • Example: I am happy.

    In this example, the linking verb is am. Am connects the subject (I) to information about the subject (happy). Am is a "to be" verb.

Verbs that deal with the senses are sometimes used as action verbs and sometimes used as linking verbs. (senses = taste, touch, smell, hear, see)


If a verb is used to describe an action, it is an action verb.

If a verb is used to describe a feeling, it is a linking verb.

Here are a few verbs that can be used as action verbs and linking verbs.

Action Verb
Linking Verb
feel to touch something;
to be aware of something physically (pain, heat, an object)

I felt the soft pillow.

He feels pain from his sunburn.
used to describe or ask about someone's physical or mental state

Do you feel ok?

I feel sad today.
smell to use your nose to smell something

I smelled the flower.

Did you smell the smoke from the fire?
to have an odor

The garbage smells.

The refrigerator smells like apples.
taste to sense a flavor of food or drink

I taste garlic in the sauce.

I tasted the coffee and put more sugar in it.
to have a certain taste

The milk tastes sour.

The apples taste sweet.
look to use your eyes to see something

The teacher looked at me.

I looked at the painting.
to seem to be something

He looks angry.

He looks like he is hurt.
appear to become visible;
to arrive

The stars appeared in the night sky.

The cat appears at our house every morning.

to seem to be something; to have a certain characteristic

She appears angry.

He appears to be hurt.

taking a test

Let's practice!

Now, it is your turn to try! Complete each sentence by choosing bad or badly. Then, scroll below the pictures for the correct answers.

1. I feel bad/badly about being late.

2. He ran bad/badly in the race.

3. Things looked bad/badly for the football team.

4. This is a bad/badly movie.

5. You don't speak English bad/badly.

6. He drove bad/badly and caused and accident.

7. Please don't feel bad/badly about forgetting to call.

8. His face was bad/badly bruised.

9. He treated me bad/badly .

10. The music sounds bad/badly.

Scroll down past the graphic to see the answers!

bad badly graphic


1. I feel bad about being late.

2. He ran badly in the race.

3. Things looked bad for the football team.

4. This is a bad movie.

5. You don't speak English badly.

6. He drove badly and caused and accident.

7. Please don't feel bad about forgetting to call.

8. His face was badly bruised.

9. He treated me badly.

10. The music sounds bad.

Return to Action Verb or Linking Verb

Get Vocabulary, Grammar and Teaching Tips, Site Updates and Special Offers Directly to Your Mailbox

Join now and get a special bonus:

First 2 chapters of the English Short Stories Book and Workbook.

Are you a teacher or a student?

* We respect your email privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.