Good vs. Well

Good vs. WellThe “good” vs. “well” conundrum has lasted centuries. Ok, I’m exaggerating but really–people don’t know when to use “good” or when to use “well.” Today’s post should help clarify when you are “good” and when you are “well.” 😉

Personally, I feel neither good nor well today.

No seriously, today is just a crummy day. It’s kind of ironic that I’m making this post while being miserable 😛 But onto the topic at hand!

What is “good,” and what is “well?”

Good is generally used as an adjective, while well is generally used as an adverb. However, just like my awesome “affect” and “effect” post, good and well can sometimes break these basic guidelines. Let’s take a minute to look at these words separately in order to get a better feel for them.

Good

Good is generally used as an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns to help clarify sentences. “Mother Theresa was a good person.” What type of person was she? Good. If I took good out, we would have “Mother Theresa was a person.” In this case, the appropriate “um…duh?” response is perfectly acceptable. Notice that because of that one adjective, we know that she was more than a person–she was a good person.

You said it is generally used as an adjective. When is it not?

Ah, good eye. In some cases, good can be used as an adverb. It is only used for “linking” verbs. Linking verbs can be a bit tricky, but essentially they’re verbs that bring two words together. Let’s start with the “to be” linking verb form. “The cat is gray.” Notice we cannot visualize any action happening. The linking verb functions much like an equal sign in this case, saying “The cat=gray.” Other forms of linking verbs are words that work with your senses, such as “feel,” “smell,” “appear,” and “look.”

Let’s look at some more examples:

  • “I feel good.” In this case, “feel” is a linking verb–essentially saying “I = good.”
  • “The cake smells good.” Again, this verb is connecting cake and good. If you take “smells” out, it doesn’t work.
  • “You look good!” This is much like “I feel good,” except you’re discussing someone else. “You=good.”
  • NOTE: Words like “smell” can become action verbs based on the structure of the sentence. Your subject needs to be actively “smelling” for it to be an action verb. Notice the cake cannot actively smell something. 😛

Well

So when do you use well? Well, like I mentioned earlier, is typically an adverb. Unlike good, well describes action verbs. Action verbs are pretty simple–they’re verbs that have an action involved, like “swim,” “dance,” “run” etc. They have some sort of movement. Let’s look at a couple examples:

  • “He swims well.” Well here is describing how he swims. You could just say “He swims,” but then we don’t know if he’s almost drowning or swimming laps like a pro.
  • “She dances well.” Again, well describes her action.
  • And so on, and so on.

“How are you feeling today, Kelly?”

This is where good and well get tricky. I have no idea who came up with this idea. It’s a stupid one, but you should still know it. Ok, when someone asks you how you are feeling, you can answer with good OR well. It depends on what you’re talking about. You can say “I am good” (remember, “am” is a form of a linking verb), which means that you are generally happy and things are going well. However, you can also say “I am well,” which would be indicating your health.

A few weeks ago, I had appendicitis and had surgery. While I was in the hospital, people constantly said, “Hey Kelly, how are you?” The appropriate response, given the situation, was “I am well.” Why? Because people were concerned about my health.

Let’s say I walk past a professor in the hallway, and she asks me how I am. “I am good,” or “I feel good” are appropriate answers because it is a general level of happiness. The professor wasn’t necessarily asking about my health.

Summary?

Good is primarily an adjective and describes nouns. It is also used when using “linking verbs” or verbs that pertain to your senses. It is also used to describe your general state of being and happiness. Well describes action verbs and is used to describe your health.

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

8 Comments

  1. Great post. I always thought an older woman I know was being persnickety by replying, “I’m well.” I guess it’s her call on that one.

  2. Haha, I have an older professor who always says “I’m well.” I felt the same way. However, given her age and the fact that she’s a doctor, the extra formality seems more appropriate.

  3. Haha I am young (21) and I prefer to say “I am well! Thank you, and yourself?”

    I guess I should start saying “I am good! Thanks, and yourself?”

    =)

  4. When you said “good” is used as an adverb with linking verbs, you are actually incorrect. It is still an adjective. It is called a predicate adjective. Your explanation of how it modifies the subject is really helpful, though.

  5. My question is… What if you say “I am doing well”? If you put the word “doing” in the sentence does it make it incorrect?

    • “Well” is an adverb and “doing” is a verb. As such, your statement would be a correct usage because the adverb is modifying the ver.

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