Bad vs Badly: What’s The Difference?

Learning languages can be a really exciting way to learn about a different culture, its country, and its people.  However, language can also pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.  Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn.  From complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply…in short, grammar is difficult.

English is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn just based on the fact that it tends to struggle with following most of its own rules.  Part of the reason for this is that English borrows (or just completely steals) most of its grammar from other languages.  English grammar is an etymological mashup of several different languages which causes several common grammar mistakes.

One thing that makes English especially difficult to learn is the fact that English often employs homonyms, which are words that sound the same but have different meanings.  Also, different parts of speech, like nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, are often derived from one another, making the process of learning English very complicated.

In this article, let’s explore the commonly confused words bad and badly, what they mean, learn their proper use, look for their synonyms, and learn their etymology and context so that you can use the correct word every time.

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Definition of Bad and Badly

The first step in trying to understand how to use a word properly is to learn what its definition actually is.  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word bad means “failing to reach an acceptable standard”, or “inadequate or unsuited to a purpose”.  On the other hand, the word badly is defined as, “in a bad manner”, or “to a great or intense degree”, and represents a completely different part of speech, being an adverb rather than an adjective.  While this will be explored later, it is important to note this now.

Essentially, while the words do share a large number of letters, the actual usage of the word varies.  In total, there are 19 definitions of the word bad and only a few definitions of the word badly.  

What Part of Speech Are They?

Another important step in trying to understand how to use a word correctly is learning how to use a word in a sentence.  More specifically, it is important to learn where to use a word in a sentence.  In English, words can be used to describe people, places, things, actions, and states of being.  However, modifier words like adjectives for nouns and adverbs for verbs can actually add further meaning and definition to words that describe things.  For example, saying “the truck drove” tells something, but saying “the red truck drove quickly” tells you even more about both the truck and the specific action and type of action it was taking.  

The adjective bad is the adjectival form of the word, and it is used to describe nouns in a sentence.  For example, to say that someone did a bad job is to say that the noun job is described as being bad — that they did a poor job.  Or, to say that someone has bad teeth is a way to describe the quality and health of their teeth.  

On the other hand, the word badly is the adverbial form, and it is used to describe verbs in a sentence.  For example, to say that someone hurt themselves badly describes the level and amount of the pain that happened when they were hurt.  Or, you could say that the team that lost a certain game played badly.  It’s especially used in types of verbs like sensory verbs, action verbs, and linking verbs to describe a state of being as it relates to the preceding verb. For example, if someone were to ask you how do you feel today, you would use the verb feel to say that you feel badly. On the other hand, you could also say that you have a bad feeling about something specific.  

These are just a few examples to explain which part of speech they fall into, but there are plenty more.   

How Are Bad and Badly Used In Context?

Here are some examples of the words bad and badly used in context.


  • The weather today is really bad.  It has not stopped raining all day.
  • The countryside smells bad because of all the cows out there just spreading waste all over the hillside.
  • I really do think his plan was bad.  He couldn’t even get the group together to make a decision.


  • I feel badly; I should not have said that to him.
  • They played badly today; their coordination and timing were quite poor.
  • The economy is doing badly right now; the stocks have dropped quite significantly over the past few weeks.

Where Do Bad and Badly Come From? History and Etymology

The final step in learning where a word comes from is to explore its history, its etymology, and learn where it came from.  Both the words bad and badly came from the same root word, and like many modern predicate adjectives and adverbs, they got their roots in Western European languages.  According to EtymOnline, the words originated from the Old English usage and were originally used around 1400AD, but did not reach commonality until the early eighteenth century.  Prior to that point, the word evil was used to describe the antithesis of good.

Unlike many words in the Modern English language, these words did not actually originate from ancient languages such as Latin or Greek, but were just English creations with some slight Germanic influence.    

In Summary

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that culture drives language, not the other way around.  The frequency of use of a certain word in a certain context with a certain definition is what eventually determines whether or not that word is the correct choice or not, so it is important to know your audience and to be able to determine who you are speaking to.  This is especially true if you are trying to use either American English or British English. Communicating directly with your audience will enable you to better understand when to use certain words correctly and become a true grammarian.