Can you feel it?

A reader wrote with a good question from one of her students. She had admonished the students not to use “I feel badly” unless they were trying to say they had numb fingers. Then a student asked why we say “I feel strongly” instead of “I feel strong.”

In fact, we do say “I feel strong” when we mean that we can lift a heavy weight or that we can overcome any metaphorical obstacle. But we say “I feel strongly” when we have a definite opinion about something. Barbara Wallraff, the author of Word Court, explains that “feel” can sometimes be a linking verb: I feel bad, I feel sick. A linking verb in this construction is followed by an adjective that describes the subject. Or “feel” can be an intransitive verb, meaning to have a feeling or an opinion about something. So we can say, “I feel strongly that you should stop saying ‘I feel badly.'” She also notes that “feel” can be a transitive verb and have an object: I feel your pain. Here is a link to Wallraff’s entry on “feel strongly.”

One very wise thing that Wallraff writes in that entry is that no one had a plan for English. It just developed, and only later did we try to apply labels and rules to what we English speakers and writers do.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.