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Is It Correct to Say “Feel Bad”?

We have all kinds of experiences in life, whether positive or negative. When we have a negative experience, we might say we feel bad about that experience. But wait, is “feel bad” the correct way to express it?

The correct phrase is “feel bad.” When we say “feel bad,” we mean we are experiencing negative physical or emotional feelings about something. To use the phrase correctly, you need to explain what you feel bad about. Usually you would say “(I) feel bad (about) ________.” 

This article will go over the grammar behind the phrase “feel bad” and explain how to use it, when to use it, and even some other phrases you can use in place of it. 

Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Feel Bad”?

The correct way to say the phrase in a complete sentence is “I feel bad.” You can also expand the sentence to “I feel bad about _____” or “I feel bad that ____” to offer a more specific description of what makes you feel bad.

Let’s break down the grammar of that sentence a bit further. 

SubjectVerbSubject complement
feel bad (about breaking your vase).

In the example sentence above, the speaker expresses remorse or sorrow for breaking someone’s vase. When we say, “I feel bad about _____,” we are typically expressing some kind of remorse, sorrow, regret, or pity. You can use this formula with any pronoun like this:

  • I feel bad about breaking your vase. 
  • He/she feels bad about breaking your vase.
  • We feel bad about breaking your vase. 
  • They feel bad about breaking your vase. 

Another common way to say the phrase is “I feel bad that ______.” We use this phrase in a similar way to “I feel bad about _____.” 

  • I feel bad that I broke your vase. 
  • He/she feels bad that he broke your vase.
  • We feel bad that we broke your vase. 
  • They feel bad that they broke your vase. 

“Feel Bad” or “Feel Badly”?

You might be wondering why we say “feel bad” instead of “feel badly.” Some people think that the phrase is “feel badly” because, typically, when we have a verb, it is followed by an adverb (like “badly”) which describes the verb. The correct way to say the phrase is “feel bad” (source).

In fact, if you were to say the phrase “I feel badly,” technically, you are saying that you are bad at physically feeling things! In other words, you have a poor sense of touch. 

Still, it is common for people to say “I feel badly” in some parts of the country to express remorse, sorrow, or physical discomfort, and many people do not know that it is incorrect. 

It is a grammatical error that is even common to native English speakers. However, it won’t make you sound like you lack fluency, especially if many people in your region say it that way. 

How Do You Use “Feel Bad”?

There are a few main formulations that you can use to construct a sentence using the phrase “feel bad.” Let’s go over them here. The first is the most straightforward:

(Subject pronoun) feel/feels bad. 

This version is very easy to use and is perfectly grammatically correct. But it doesn’t tell us much about why you are feeling bad, just that you do feel bad. If you would like to give a bit more context, there are a couple of ways you can do that. 

(Subject Pronoun) feel/feels bad (about) _________.


(Subject pronoun) feel/feels bad (that) __________. 

Both versions are correct and can function interchangeably. They can work in the present and past tenses, both for the verb “feel” and the specific thing that occurred. For example, one could say:

Present tense main verbPast tense main verb
Present tense linking verbI feel bad that she works all day. I feel bad that she worked all day. 
Past tense linking verbI felt bad that she works all day. I felt bad that she worked all day. 

What Does “Feel Bad” Mean?

The phrase “feel bad” (about something) means that you feel guilt, remorse, pity, or unhappiness about something (source). It can also operate as a standalone phrase to mean the same thing without specifying what exactly you feel bad about. “Feel bad” can also refer to feeling physically unwell. 

When Can You Use “Feel Bad”? 

You can use the phrase “feel bad” when you want to communicate to others that you personally are feeling physical or emotional pain. 

  • I feel bad; my stomach has been hurting all day.
  • He feels bad; he hurt his leg while running.

You can also use it to express the experience of emotional pain, such as sadness. 

  • I feel bad every time he calls me names.
  • We feel bad when you don’t let us play outside.

Another way to use “feel bad” is to express remorse, regret, or sadness for someone else’s experiences. This can include if you were the one who caused their pain or if someone else or some other experience caused their pain. 

  • I feel bad that you have so much homework. 
  • I feel bad for eating all of your dessert.

In What Context Can You Use “Feel Bad”?

There are many different contexts where you can use the phrase “feel bad.” For instance, you can use the phrase to communicate to others that you are not feeling well. Often, people will just say, “I feel bad,” which lets people know that you are emotionally or physically unwell. 

Sometimes people use the phrase “feel bad” to apologize for something they have done or said. When they say “feel bad,” they express their emotional pain because they have hurt someone else.

  • I feel bad for calling you names earlier.
  • I feel bad for telling on you at school. 

You can also say “feel bad” as a polite way to decline an invitation or event. By saying “feel bad,” you are letting the other person know that you feel a bit guilty or sad that you have let them down in some way. 

It is a way to make it less painful for the listener when you have disappointed them in some way — like by not attending an event they are having. 

  • I feel bad about missing your show last week.
  • I feel bad that I won’t be able to go to your birthday party this weekend.

Another time when you can say “feel bad” is when you are expressing sympathetic pain or sorrow for someone else’s pain. In this situation, you are not saying that you have done anything wrong; instead, you are simply empathizing with someone else’s pain. 

  • I feel bad that you didn’t win the contest.
  • We all feel bad that you wrecked your car.

Sometimes, when you are expressing sympathy or empathy for someone’s pain, you can say “feel bad for you,” which more specifically explains that you are sharing their pain. It’s important to note that, in these examples, it may look like you are apologizing, but it does not have to mean that. 

  • I feel bad for you that they never chose you in kickball.
  • I feel bad for you that you miss your mom.

Using “Feel Bad” in a Full Sentence

Now that we understand a bit more about using the phrase “feel bad,” let’s look at a few more example sentences. 

  • I feel bad; I ate too much food. 
  • He feels bad for hitting his brother. 
  • We feel bad for gossiping about the teacher.
  • She feels bad about spilling the paint. 
  • I feel bad that I forgot your birthday. 
  • He feels bad that he has to miss the show. 
  • I feel bad about your dog dying. 
  • We feel bad that you missed your exam. 
  • She feels bad for kids who are starving. 

When Not to Use “Feel Bad”

The phrase “feel bad” is a versatile phrase that can work in several circumstances. Still, sometimes, it’s not quite the right fit.

Because it is so versatile, it can also be a little bit vague. The phrase “feel bad” is not appropriate to use when you want to be precise with your feelings.

In circumstances where you owe someone a real apology, the phrase “I feel bad” may not be sufficient. Someone might even take it as glib or self-centered. If you do say “I feel bad” as an apology, it is helpful to explain why you feel bad and that you understand how you harmed the other person.

It is also not appropriate to say “feel bad” when someone is experiencing deep grief or emotional pain. Again, it is a vague statement that others can perceive as minimizing a person’s pain. Sometimes, when someone says, “I feel bad about ____,” people might even respond, “Why do you feel bad? It’s not your fault.”

For more articles involving phrases with adjectives or adverbs, check out the article “Doing Well or Doing Good: Can Both Be Correct?

What Can You Use Instead of “Feel Bad”?

Image by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

When you want to be more specific, there are lots of ways you can express negative feelings that work in place of “feel bad.” Let’s take a look at some examples (source). 

  • Feel sad
  • Feel guilty
  • Feel awful
  • Feel sick
  • Feel ill
  • Feel regret
  • Feel ill at ease
  • Feel unhappy

Linking Verbs

The phrase “feel bad” is not the only time the word following the verb is actually an adjective instead of an adverb. This is particularly true with linking verbs. 

What are linking verbs? In essence, linking verbs are verbs that link the subject with the rest of the sentence. Unlike typical verbs like “run” or “laugh,” linking verbs do not illuminate a specific action; they illuminate a trait or some specific information about the subject. 

The following verbs ALWAYS serve as linking verbs: 

  • To become
  • To seem

When you say “to become” or “to seem,” you will always describe the subject with a predicate adjective. For example: 

  • she became strong
  • They seem nice

Linking Verb “To Be”

The verb “to be” is one of the most common linking verbs. When we use the verb “to be,” we typically link a descriptive term with the subject pronoun. For example: 

  • He is handsome
  • She is tall
  • They are kind

You can also use “to be” as a helping verb. While linking verbs connect adjectives with subject pronouns, helping verbs connect to another verb to make a more concrete action. For example: 

  • He is running
  • She is playing
  • They are sleeping

Linking Verbs That Are Action Verbs

Some verbs function as a linking verb in some circumstances and as an action verb in others. For example, consider the following verbs, which can serve as both, depending on the occasion: 


Let’s look at some sample sentences with these verbs, first acting as a linking verb and then as an action. 

Linking VerbsActions
He looks healthy.He looked at the rocks.
The car smells bad. She smells the flowers. 
The house appears fine.He appeared at the door. 
I feel happy. He felt for the door handle. 
You sound sick.She sounded the alarm. 
The soup tastes delicious. He tasted the cake. 
Her face turned sour. She turned around. 
Everyone grows old. The tree grew one foot. 
She remained calm. I will remain here. 
Her strategy proved successful. He proved his point. 

If you’re still confused about why we say “feel bad” instead of “feel badly,” try thinking about some of these examples of linking verbs. We wouldn’t say things like: 

  • The house appears finely
  • Everyone grows oldly
  • She remained calmly

It’s more obvious in those examples that we are incorrectly using an adverb where an adjective should be used (finely vs. fine, for example). 

To learn more about phrases with linking verbs, check out this article: “I Am Fine or I Am Good: What’s the Difference?

Distinguishing Adjectives From Adverbs

So, what is the difference between “bad” and “badly”? Well,  to start, “bad” is an adjective, and “badly” is an adverb. However, they are both descriptive words.

When a word or phrase describes something, grammarians refer to that word or phrase as a “modifier.” Modifiers are typically adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives modify nouns, and adverbs most often modify verbs. For example, when considering the phrase “I feel bad,” the word “bad” is the modifier.

However, “bad” is not modifying the verb “feel,” but, instead, is modifying the subject pronoun (I). Since it is modifying the subject, it is actually an adjective instead of an adverb. 

In sentences with linking verbs, the descriptive term will always describe the subject. This article was written for

Consider the following example: 

  • She is beautiful

The adjective “beautiful” modifies the pronoun “she” and cannot modify the verb “is.”

Final Thoughts

The phrase “feel bad” is a versatile and easy-to-use phrase for so many situations when you need to express negative emotions such as sadness, regret, guilt, and more. With a little practice, you will be able to use it in any situation that calls for it with no problems at all.