Adjective Or Adverb?

Most students by the time they are in college know that an adjective describes a noun, a thing, and an adverb describes an action, how something is done, and that most adverbs end in "ly." The problem arises when the adverb does not end in "ly" and the writer is not sure which word is the adverb and whether in fact an adjective or an adverb is called for. One can only learn the exceptions that cause the most problems. Here are two of the worst.

To "do good" means to do good works. The noun defined by the adjective "good" is understood. To "do well" means to do in a good manner. In idiomatic American speech, it specifically means to be making money. If someone asks, "How are you?" and you answer, "I'm doing good," you are in fact saying that you are involved in doing good works. If you want to say that you are getting along OK, say, "I am doing well." My favorite phrase that helps to distinguish these is the statement often quoted about the Quakers: "They came to America to do good, and they did right well."

Even more troublesome is the "feeling bad" and "feeling badly" dilemma. This is a useful distinction to grab because it vividly illustrates the difference in meaning and hence the importance of knowing what it is you are actually saying. To "feel bad" is to feel sick; to "feel badly" is to have numb or clumsy hands and thus not do the act well. Just remember the phrase, "She felt bad because he felt badly." Or if you find that too sexist, put in the gender pronouns of your own choice.

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