5 times when trying too hard makes your grammar worse instead of better

Do you try to use good grammar? That’s great. Chances are your efforts pay off and you’re a better communicator as a result.

But if you try too hard, your efforts can backfire. Grammar rules are based on common usage — the way people speak naturally. So it’s a paradox of language that the more you overthink your grammar and word choices, the more likely you are to goof up.

For example "I feel badly." You can say it this way if you want to. “I feel badly” is idiomatic — meaning it’s acceptable simply because it’s so common. But if you’re choosing “badly” over “bad” because you think it’s more grammatical, you’re missing an important fact about adverbs. We’re taught in school that adverbs modify verbs. You skip happily down the street. But there’s a special kind of verb that takes an adjective instead of an adverb as its complement. They’re called “copular verbs” or “linking verbs,” and the most important member of this group is “be.” For example, “Joe is happy” uses a form of “be” — “is” — and is followed by the adjective “happy.” Try the alternative, “Joe is happily,” and you can see that some verbs say less about an action and more about the subject. “Feel” isn’t always copular. But in the sentence “I feel bad,” it is. That’s why it gets the adjective “bad” instead of the adverb “badly.”

Here in my recent column are four more times when trying too hard makes your grammar worse instead of better.

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