I Feel Prettily?

“And now, a story we feel passionately about…” Kyra Phillips said today on CNN as she introduced a story on veterans’ benefits. I’m glad CNN is passionate about protecting the rights of our war heroes, but that use of “feel passionately” made me cringe. I don’t expect the average American to know that feel is usually a linking verb, and therefore takes a complement. But I do expect journalists to know it.

I learned that lesson back in fourth grade (yes, I was a grammar geek even then). In addition to the verb be, my teacher explained, ten other verbs are commonly used as linking verbs: appear, become, continue, feel, grow, look, seem, smell, sound, and taste. These verbs join the subject to another word in the sentence—a predicate noun, a predicate pronoun, or a predicate adjective. Never an adverb.

“We feel passionately” should have been “we feel passionate.” Why? Because “passionate” describes “we,” not “feel.” If it described “feel,” it would refer to the quality of the sense of touch. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for the people at CNN to comment during a news broadcast on the passionate nature of their feels.

This error is probably seen most frequently in the sentence, “I feel badly.” Unless the speaker’s tactile sense is impaired due to injury, degenerative condition, or genetic defect, that sentence should read, “I feel bad.” People seem to have less trouble with the other linking verbs, happily crying, “That sounds good!” or “That cheese smells bad!” But feel seems a troublemaker. So if you’re ever confused about whether to use an adjective or an adverb after the verb feel, remember Maria in West Side Story. She got it right.

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