Grammar lesson: bad vs. badly

Even the most careful writers stumble when it comes to using the words bad” and “badly.” Which of the following sentences are correct?

  1. Our stock performed badly last year.
  2. Tim delegates badly.
  3. We felt badly about our stock’s performance last year.
  4. When I visited her in the hospital, she looked badly.

Answer: Only the first two are correct. Because “badly” is an adverb, it describes the manner in which an action is performed. In the first two sentences, “performing” and “delegating” are action verbs, so it’s appropriate to use an adverb to describe how they are done.

In the last two sentences, “feeling” and “looking” are not actions but states of being. The correct word in those cases is “bad,” which is an adjective that describes the pronouns “we” and “I.”

However, when the verb “to feel” is used to mean one’s sense of touch, the adverb “badly” is correct because it describes an action. Example: Someone who damaged the nerve endings in his fingers would “feel badly,” because in that context, feeling is an action and not a state of being.

Bottom line:When you’re tempted to use “badly,” be sure you are describing
an action.
— Adapted from “Bad or Badly?”

Words are Powerful; Use With Care, Media Expert Notes 

This is a guest post by Steve Kayser is an award-winning writer, editor, publisher, former radio host and founder of Kayser Media.

It’s easy to take words for granted; most of us use them as effortlessly as we breathe. But words hold power that we often overlook at our own peril, says media expert Steve Kayser.

“Language is the code that translates ideas so they can be shared. They give us an advantage in the natural world, which has enabled us to evolve as human beings,” says Kayser, author of “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard,” (

“But in our personal and public lives, we are inundated with empty words; words that are used incorrectly; words that are drained of all meaning; and so fail to accurately convey the intended message; and words that carry unwarranted connotations and stigma.”

Words can change lives, destroy relationships and alter the course of entire civilizations, Kayser notes.

He shares examples of what to avoid, what to embrace and what to reconsider when trying to make your language more effective.

•  Avoid John Kerry’s “crystal clear” nugget. Earlier this year, amid the ongoing foreign policy crises in the Middle East, secretary of state John Kerry, who has a linguistic reputation for long-winded political jargon, seemed to contradict himself in a single breath. “I want to make this crystal clear,” he said. “The president is desirous of trying to see how we can make our best efforts in order to find a way to facilitate.”

It’s this kind of language that makes people cynical about our elected officials – when a politician’s mouth is moving and producing sounds, but he’s not saying anything. Or, if they are saying something, they use words that are overused and unnecessary. Businesses, too, can be notorious for this using corporate gobbledygook to obfuscate all meaning, Kayser says. “What people want is authenticity in language, to say what you mean and mean what you say.”

•  Emulate Mark Twain, the “straight shooter,” who employed wit, charm and incisive commentary in communications. No, most people cannot pick up where Twain, arguably America’s greatest writer, left off. But language and the way in which it’s used can be highly contagious. If you want to inspire authenticity and engage employees and friends alike with genuine communication, consider styling your speech more along the lines of Twain, rather than a dry business manual:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” Twain wrote. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

•  If you’re in business, there are advantages to embracing the jargon. “Can we blue sky this synergy later?” “Cascade this to your people and see what the pushback is.” … Business lingo could fill a dictionary, and in many cases, requires one! Unlike political babble, business jargon has its purpose, according to a new study from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Business speak is code for “upper management material,” showing that the speaker is in a company’s inner circle and is a “big picture” person, the study reveals.

“Some of the language you come across in the business world can seem absurd to outsiders; some of these phrases, however, may actually reveal ambition in an employee,” Kayser says.

“The beauty of language is that it’s a common tool for everyone to use, yet it can be tailored to an individual. My primary suggestion is to do that in a way that authentically reveals your meaning.”

Steve Kayser is an award-winning writer, editor, publisher, former radio host and founder of Kayser Media. He has had the great fortune to interview and collaborate with some of the best minds in the business world, and his eclectic approach to public relations and marketing has been widely documented. He recently published “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard,” ( 

Words that hurt morale

Avoid these words that have the power to demotivate and demoralize employees: blame, catastrophe, command, crisis, demand, disaster, fault, hopeless, impossible, incompetent, mess and stupid.

Those words convey a sense of command and control, as in “You must listen to my orders and do as I say.” Those are words that imply strict instruction and that hold zero hope for drawing unity, inspiration or cooperation from your team.

— Adapted from Getting Your Way Every Day, Alex Axelrod, American Management Association,

Well-timed feedback

When is the best time to tell employees that their performance doesn’t meet your expectations? As soon as you notice problems. If you wait until a more “opportune” moment to share negative feedback, their performance will only continue to slide.

Worse, staffers may think: “We’ve been messing up and the boss didn’t even tell us? It must not be that important.”

Another problem: employee resentment or embarrassment. No one wants to hear about poor performance after the fact.

— Adapted from Growing Great Employees, Erika Andersen, Portfolio,

Personalize recognition

When it comes to recognition, money isn’t everything. Employees often want other shows of your appreciation—and many respond well to rewards that just might surprise you.

Find out how your employees want to be recognized by distributing a survey, asking them to mark the items that appeal to them. Then tailor rewards around their responses.

“Reward me by …”

  • Offering me positive feedback at a meeting.
  • Asking me to take on a tough problem or challenge.
  • Inviting me to a dinner party or barbecue at the boss’s home.
  • Giving me the chance to work flexible hours or work at home.
  • Letting me buy new tools or equipment for work.
  • Asking my opinion.
  • Sharing my successes with the rest of the organization.
  • Letting me learn a new system, operate new equipment and increase my skills and knowledge.

— Adapted from Teamwork and Teamplay, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan and Glenn Parker, Jossey Bass,

Answer questions the right way

Be careful how you answer questions from customers or coworkers. An answer that seems fine to you may be offensive to the other person.

Use these tips to answer questions more effectively and to reduce the chances of misunderstandings or hurt feelings:

  • Avoid using “Of course” as a synonym for “Yes.” Answers that are obvious to you may be less obvious to the other person. For that reason, the questioner may interpret the answer “Of course” as an insult. Example: A coworker asks whether she should obtain a manager’s approval before ordering office supplies. You answer “Of course.” She may interpret your answer as hostile or dismissive.
  • Offer more than a one-word answer. When answering a question, elaborate or explain the general principle as well. Example: “When ordering supplies for the office, we need a manager’s approval for orders that exceed $100.” By answering more thoroughly, you can lighten your workload. People will ask you fewer repetitive questions.

— Adapted from “How to Answer Questions,” Calvin Sun,

How to win without arguing

Want to convince others to accept your point of view over their own? Don’t engage in a shouting match. Instead of raising their defenses by attacking their
points of view, throw them off guard by agreeing with their viewpoint.

Example: A co-worker tells you that you let him down because you didn’t meet an internal deadline that you consider relatively unimportant. You could create a logical argument to convince your co-worker of that, but the co-worker is unlikely to abandon his position. So don’t argue.

Instead, say: “Yes, I understand what you mean. We did agree to finish that part of the report by Tuesday. I can appreciate what you are feeling right now.”
Why that works: You didn’t argue—you validated the other person’s point of view. At that point, your co-worker is likely to relax because you are not
being confrontational.

Next, offer a suggestion that meets both your and your co-worker’s needs. Example: “We both have the key facts and figures. Do you think we can skip the interim report and just sit down together to discuss what we know and what we need to include in the final report?”

Add these key words to fully win the other person to your point of view: “If you can’t do that, I understand.” Most likely, you will gain what you want. At the worst, you will open a productive discussion that results in a compromise that satisfies you both.

— Adapted from “First Agreement—Then (and Only Then) Persuasion,” Bob Burg,