Feel Strong or Feel Strongly?

By Maeve Maddox

Phil Dragonetti asks about the idiom “to feel strongly about something.”

. . . when people say “Oh–I feel badly about that”. . . we know that what they mean is “I feel bad about that.” But what about “I feel strongly about capital punishment.”? That almost sounds right..no?  And “I feel bad about capital punishment”does not really get the idea across.

What I would write is: “I have strong feelings about capital
punishment.”—but doing so just allows me to avoid the problem.

My feeling is that it is grammatically incorrect to say
“I feel strongly about capital punishment.” Can you give me a perspective on this???

Most of us probably remember the English lesson about how to tell a being verb from an action verb: if you can substitute a form of be for the verb and the sentence still makes sense, it’s a being verb.

For example,

I feel the wall. I am the wall. Nope, makes no sense; feel is a transitive action verb here. It means “to employ the sense of touch.”

I feel faint. I am faint. Bingo, feel is a being verb because here it denotes a state of being.

That’s helpful as far as it goes, but those are not the only two uses of feel as a verb. The OED gives 16 definitions. Here is number 14:

intr. To have the sensibilities excited; esp. to have sympathy with, compassion for (a person, his sufferings, etc.).

It is in this sense that feel is used in the idiom “to feel strongly about.” It’s not a being verb in this expression, so there’s nothing wrong with using the adverb strongly with it.

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5 Responses to “Feel Strong or Feel Strongly?”

  • Brad K.

    Phil, just another thought.

    “I feel bad about capital punishment.” “I feel bad” is a description of your feelings, your state of mind. The concept of capital punishment, or the reality of it, affects you by diminishing your sense of well being. You are harmed, because capital punishment exists.

    “I feel strongly about capital punishment.” “I feel strongly” is a description of how engaged your thoughts and feelings are, about capital punishment. “I feel strong” would mean that your sense of well being, your feelings of physical or mental strength and robustness, are enhanced because capital punishment exists. This would sound morbid, no? “I feel strongly” expresses the degree that capital punishment engages your feelings.

    “I feel bad” expresses the kind of effect something has on your feelings, which implies a rather strong degree of effect but doesn’t describe that. “I feel really bad” gets into degree of being affected as well as the type of effect you experience.

    “I feel badly” would almost be symptomatic of mental disease – your feelings don’t engage in a normal or “good” fashion. The mildest form of this kind of disruption might be “I don’t know what I feel about . . .”

    That is how I think of it. YMMV!

  • Erik

    Nice one, Brad! Thanks for the clarification.

  • Rondy

    OK, then according to the extract from the dictionary, I can say: I feel all the amazing human beings who lived here once and did all these marvelous wonders, right?

  • Philip Dragonetti

    A quote from the DWT article:
    “intr. To have the sensibilities excited; esp. to have sympathy with, compassion for (a person, his sufferings, etc.). .”

    Note that this quote uses the word “have” regarding “sensibilities, sympathy, compassion, sufferings” which are all nouns—which can be modified by an adjective “strong”, not by an adverb “strongly”

    Brad K makes my point exactly!!! To feel badly could be interpreted as mental disease–because Brad is acknowledging the fact that “feel” in this case is an intransitive verb. Touche`, Brad.

  • Kimberly

    Is anybody out there know about the rule of the following grammar structure? I’d like to know the name of the rule. If there is no name for that at least regulations?

    example: If I can, so CAN YOU. Where ….. , there AM I with them.

    Putting a verb before the subject. What kind of rule is that?
    Please let me know. I’d greatly appreciate it.

    Kimberly

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