Being able to differentiate between the eight parts of speech is difficult. Certain words can function as both adjectives and adverbs, adding to the confusion. For this reason, “poorly” and “badly” confuse many people.
You can use “poorly” as an adjective or an adverb, while “badly” can only function as an adverb. When they function as adverbs of manner, they are synonyms, but “badly” can also be an adverb of degree. To use “poorly” or “badly” correctly, you’ll need to understand what part of speech they function as.
“Poorly” vs. “Badly”
When we use them as adverbs, “poorly” and “badly” are actually synonyms when we use them as adverbs of manner. It’s when we use “poorly” as an adjective or when we use “badly” as an adverb of degree that there is any significant difference.
What Does “Poorly” Mean?
As an adverb, “poorly” means “in a poor condition or manner.” However, as an adjective, “poorly” describes something or someone as ill or unwell. For instance, when you say someone is feeling “poorly,” you are saying they are not well (source).
What Does “Badly” Mean?
Unlike “poorly,” “badly” only functions as an adverb. However, as an adverb, “badly” has two distinct definitions. For example, the first definition of “badly” is “in a bad manner.” In stark contrast, we can also use “badly” to mean “to a great degree,” as in wanting something “badly” (source).
Therefore, “badly” can function as an adverb of manner or an adverb of degree.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Poorly”?
It is grammatically correct to say “poorly,” and you can use the word as either an adverb or an adjective.
In case you need a refresher on parts of speech, an adjective is a word that describes a noun. While you can place an adjective before the noun it describes, you can also place it after the noun it describes when it is a predicate adjective attached through a linking verb.
An adverb can describe a verb, adjective, or another adverb. An adverb usually ends in -ly like “poorly” and “badly,” but sometimes that’s not the case.
How Do You Use “Poorly”?
You can use “poorly” as an adjective or as an adverb of manner. Again, as an adjective, “poorly” means “ill” or “unwell,” and, as an adverb, it means “in a poor condition or manner.”
As an adjective, “poorly” can help you explain how you or someone else is feeling. But as an adverb, “poorly” answers the question of “how?”
When Can You Use “Poorly”?
If someone wants to know how you feel and you are ill, you can describe your condition using the adjective “poorly.” Or, if you want to describe the condition or manner someone did something, you can use the adverb “poorly.”
Similarly, if someone you know isn’t feeling well, you can say they are feeling “poorly.” Meanwhile, if you want to describe the poor treatment of someone, you can say they are being treated “poorly.”
Using “Poorly” in a Full Sentence
To use “poorly” in a full sentence, decide if you are using it as an adjective or an adverb. As an adjective, “poorly” will describe a noun, and, as an adverb, it will modify another adverb, noun, or adjective and answer the question of “how?”
A few examples:
- Lisa is feeling poorly, so she can’t come to the party.
- The building was poorly constructed.
In the first sentence, the adjective form of “poorly” follows the subject Lisa and describes how she feels. In the second sentence, the adverb “poorly” answers how or in what manner workers constructed the building.
In What Context Can You Use “Poorly”?
You would most likely use “poorly” in a setting where someone or something is “ill” or “unwell.” Alternatively, you could use the adverb when you are in a work environment or other setting where it might be necessary to critique how someone did something in a poor manner.
In either context, you are describing something or someone negatively. You use the word when someone or something is feeling sick, or you use it to describe something that is happening in a subpar manner.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Badly”?
It is grammatically correct to say “badly.” You can use “badly” as an adverb of manner or an adverb of degree. As an adverb of manner, “badly” means “in a bad manner,” and, as an adverb of degree, “badly” means “to a great degree.”
You may think an adverb is just an adverb, but that is not the case. Again, an adverb describes a verb, another adverb, or an adjective. There are many types of adverbs, but right now, we will focus on two: adverbs of manner and adverbs of degree.
Adverbs of manner describe how something happens or how to do it. We typically place these types of adverbs after the object or main verb.
Adverbs of degree express to what level or to what extent we do something. These adverbs can strengthen or weaken a sentence.
How Do You Use “Badly”?
Again, you can use “badly” as an adverb of manner or an adverb of degree. You can use the adverb to describe how intensely you want to do something or how someone does something.
Now, you may hear people using “badly” as an adjective, but that is incorrect since the adjective form is “bad.” “Badly” can only function as an adverb.
You can use “badly” to answer the question of “how?” or “to what extent?”
- She wanted so badly to go to the party.
- The paper was badly written.
The first example answers to what extent she wanted to go to the party, while the second answers how someone wrote the paper.
When Can You Use “Badly”?
You can use “badly” when you need an adverb to convey how intensely you want to do something or when something happens in a bad manner.
This means you can use “badly” to answer one of three questions: “how much?” “to what extent?” or “how?” For example, if you want to answer the question, “how much do you want to go to the theme park?” you could say, “I want to go to the theme park badly.”
Using “Badly” in a Full Sentence
As an adverb, “badly” can describe an adjective, another adverb, or a verb. As an adverb of manner, “badly” usually goes after the main verb or object.
Here are a few examples:
- Alice wanted to change things so badly, but she knew she couldn’t.
- The company treated its employees badly because no one protested.
- Sheila’s car was badly damaged.
In the first sentence, “badly” speaks to the extent Alice wants to change what happened. However, in the second sentence, “badly” describes how the company treated their employees, and, in the third sentence, “badly” describes the extent of damage to Sheila’s car.
In What Context Can You Use “Badly”?
In review, you can use “badly” in any context where you are speaking about how something bad happens or to what extent you want to do something.
When you think of the word “bad” or “badly,” you think about something that happened in a bad manner. But you can also use “badly” to describe how much you want or need something. For example, if you want to convey how much you need food, you can say, “I need food badly.”
Can You Say, “I Feel Badly”?
Technically, you can use “I feel badly” and be grammatically correct, but you would essentially refer to your ability to touch the items around you. However, if you are trying to express your physical or emotional condition, say “I feel bad” instead.
You may still hear someone say “I feel badly” to mean they feel bad because they’re confusing the adjective “bad” and the adverb “badly.”
“Feel” is a linking verb or a copulative verb. A linking verb’s job is to connect the sentence’s subject to the words that either describe or identify it. There are many linking verbs, and most of them can function as action verbs. But when you use them as linking verbs, you cannot directly follow them with an adverb (source).
Correct: The biscuits in the oven smell amazing.
Incorrect: The biscuits in the oven smell amazingly.
Correct: The biscuits are golden brown and look great.
Incorrect: The biscuits are golden brown and look greatly.
Correct: I feel bad because I ate all the biscuits.
Incorrect: I feel badly because I ate all the biscuits.
You can say “I feel bad,” or, if you are feeling sick, you can say “I feel poorly.” For more on this, read “Should We Say ‘Feel Bad’?”
Using “Poorly” and “Badly” as Adverbs of Manner
Again, when you use them as adverbs of manner, “poorly” and “badly” are synonyms, meaning “in a poor or bad manner.”Let’s look at two common phrases where we could use either “poorly” or “badly” with a verb.
“Badly Written” or “Poorly Written”
You can say, “The book was badly written” or “The book was poorly written.” In the two sentences, the words act as adverbs and describe how the author wrote the book.
You could also use synonyms of “badly” or “poorly” and say, “the book was atrociously written” or “the book was inadequately written.” In either case, you are saying that the book was bad.
“Treated Badly” or “Treated Poorly”
The same applies to the verb “treated,” which is the past tense form of “treat,” meaning how someone dealt with someone or something. To say that someone was treated poorly or badly indicates that someone dealt with them in an unsatisfactory manner.
What Can You Use Instead of “Poorly” and “Badly”?
The synonym you will choose for “poorly” will depend on whether you’re looking for an adjective or adverb, whereas synonyms for “badly” will depend on whether you want an adverb of degree or manner.
As an adjective, “poorly” means “sick” and “unwell,” so you can use the following words instead of “poorly”:
If you are trying to use “poorly” or “badly” as an adverb of manner, you can replace it with the following words:
To replace “badly” as an adverb of degree, you could use:
Adverbs of Degree, Manner, Frequency, Place, and Time
There are many kinds of adverbs, but the most common are adverbs of degree, manner, time, frequency, and place. As a modifier, an adverb answers one of the following questions: “how?” “when?” “where?” “how often?” or “to what extent?”
Adverbs of Degree
Adverbs of degree answer the questions “to what extent?” or “what level?” For instance, when you really want to do something or really don’t want to do something, you can use an adverb of degree/intensity. Some common adverbs of degree are “much,” “badly,” “really,” “almost,” and “too” (source).
Adverbs of Manner
In contrast, adverbs of manner tell how something happens or how to do it, and these adverbs usually end in an -ly. In addition to “badly” and “poorly,” other common adverbs of manner include “slowly” and “quickly.”
Adverbs of Frequency
When you need to answer the question “how often?” you use an adverb of frequency. Common adverbs of frequency are “frequently,” “hardly,” and “weekly.”
Adverbs of Place
When you want to tell where something happens, you use an adverb of place. This type of adverb typically follows the verb or the direct object, but you can also place it at the end of the sentence. Common examples are “above,” “under,” “outside,” and “below.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Adverbs of Time
Adverbs of time tell when something occurs, and you can find this type of adverb at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. Common adverbs of time are “already,” “always,” “afterward,” and “soon.”
Many words have multiple meanings in the English language and can have more than one function in a sentence. For example, words like “poorly” can operate as either an adjective and an adverb, while “badly” is only an adverb, and “bad” would be the adjective form.
This can be confusing, but the definition changes depending on how you use the word. As an adjective, “poorly” means “sick” or “unwell,” and, as an adverb, it means “in a poor manner.”
“Badly” also has two definitions because it functions as an adverb of degree or a one of manner. As an adverb of degree, it means “to a great degree,” and, as an adverb of manner, it means “in a bad manner.”
The more you learn about the parts of speech and how they function in a sentence, the easier it will become to discern when you can or can’t use certain words.