Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The editorial staff works overtime here at L.C. to make sure that you - the reader - get nothing but the highest quality straight skinny. Sometimes the staff spends minutes trying to unravel the intricacies of facts, spelling or grammar to make sure that in their small way they are staving off what they like to describe as "The Inevitable Collapse of Western Civilization as We Know It," with capital letters and quotation marks.

Hence, when they read the headline yesterday with the phrase "turn out badly," they spared no expense in getting to the bottom of the "bad/badly" conundrum. Herewith their report, plagiarized entirely from The Grammar Girl (the set up is Donald Trump correcting Cyndi Lauper for saying "I feel bad"):

The short answer is that it is correct to say you feel bad when you are expressing an emotion.
Action Verbs
The reason it's easy to be confused is that “feel” can be a linking verb or an action verb. Action verbs are easy to understand. They describe actions. If I reach out and touch your cashmere sweater to see how soft it is, I've taken an action. I am feeling your sweater.
Linking Verbs
Linking verbs are more subtle. They describe emotions or states of being. If I am regretful about something and I want to describe my feelings, I'm describing my state of mind, not an action.
The verb “to be” is the linking verb most people know about. When you say “I am bad,” you're describing your state. You can think of linking verbs as linking a subject to its state. Forms of “to be” include “is,” “am,” “was,” “were,” and “are.”
Verbs That Go Both Ways
Verbs that describe senses such as “feel,” “smell,” and “taste” can be linking verbs or action verbs, and to know which words modify them, you have to know the difference. That's because you use adverbs to describe action verbs, and adjectives to describe linking verbs.
If I am having trouble getting my fingers to your sweater, I am feeling badly. “Badly” is the adverb that describes how I'm doing with the feeling action.
If Cyndi Lauper is anxious about naming the person Donald Trump should fire, she feels bad. “Bad” is the adjective that describes the state of her emotions.
The Quick and Dirty Tip
Can you replace “feel” with “am”? If so, choose the adjective and write “I feel bad.”
Fortunately, there's a quick and dirty tip to help you figure out whether you're dealing with an action verb or a linking verb if Donald Trump ever calls you out on national TV.
Remember that I said the verb “to be” is always a linking verb? The trick is to use it to test your sentence to see if you can replace the verb in question with a form of “to be,” such as “is” or “was.” If you can, you're dealing with a linking verb. If you can't, you're dealing with an action verb.
 In Cyndi's sentence, you can replace “feel” with “am.” “I feel bad” becomes “I am bad.” Since you can make the verb swap, you know that “feel” is a linking verb in that sentence and is describing her state. “Bad” is an adjective, and you use adjectives to describe linking verbs.
 But in Donald's sentence, you can't replace “feel” with “am.” “I feel badly” becomes “I am badly,” which doesn't make any sense. Since you can't make the swap, you know that “feel” is an action verb in that sentence; it's describing an action. It means there's a problem with the action of feeling, but that isn't what Cyndi meant.
 A Smelly Problem
 Let's do one more example with the word “smell,” which is another verb that can be a linking verb or an action verb.
 You can exist in a state of being smelly, or you can actively smell something—a luscious chocolate or a horrible old sock.
 If you want to describe your state, then “smell” is a linking verb. You could write “That smells bad.” Notice again how you can replace the linking verb with “is” and the sentence still works. “That smells bad” becomes “That is bad.”
 But if you want to describe the action of smelling, “smell” is an action verb. Maybe you have an old dog who can't smell anymore and doesn't find treats you hide for him. You could explain to a friend by saying “He smells badly.” Notice how that sentence doesn't work if you replace “smells” with “is.” You get “He is badly,” which doesn't make sense, so it confirms that you aren't dealing with a linking verb, so the adverb “badly” is the right choice.
 Linking verbs can be replaced with forms of “to be” and you modify them with adjectives. Action verbs can't be replaced with forms of “to be,” and you modify them with adverbs.
So, "turn out" in "turn out badly" actually describes a state of existence and could - roughly - be translated "is," in which case "is bad" makes far more sense than "is badly."

So, long story short, "turns out bad" is preferred to "turns out badly," notwithstanding the fact that "turns out" functions as a verb.

So, now we all know.

1 comment:

Lauran said...

Since you've clarified bad and badly....would you clarify when to use have/has when using any or none?


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