Good or Well?

by Craig Shrives

"Good" or "Well"?

"Good" and "well" are often confused by writers. Ironically, this confusion is most prevalent among writers who think about how "good" and "well" are used grammatically. Those who choose the word that comes naturally rarely confuse "good" and "well."
  • "Good" is usually an adjective.
    • A good solution correct tick
    • I am good. correct tick
  • "Well" can be an adjective or an adverb .
    • A well specimen (i.e., a healthy specimen) correct tick
    • I am well (in good health). correct tick
    • (In these two examples, "well" is an adjective.)
    • He played well. correct tick
    • (In this example, "well" is an adverb.)

I Am Good/Well

The sentences "I am good" and "I am well" are both grammatically sound. Remember that "good" and "well" can both be used as adjectives. For example:
  • I am good. correct tick
  • (This means "I am of a fair or high standard. Of note, "I am good" also has an idiomatic meaning of "I have what I need.")
  • I am well. correct tick
  • (This means "I am in good health.")
good or well?

Good

The adjective "good" means "of a fair or high standard."

Example sentences with "good":
  • My sister has enough money. She is good. correct tick
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. correct tick (Actor Will Rogers)

Well

The adjective "well" means "in good health."

Example sentences with "well":
  • My sister is over the virus. She is well. correct tick
  • If you feel well and happy, your face will reflect this, but if you are having a miserable time, your face will soon show it. correct tick (Actress Joan Collins)

More about "I Am Good" and "I Am Well"

Remember that both are correct.

Confusion arises because some people (ironically, it's those who think about grammar) believe an adverb must be used to modify the verb "am," and they know that "well" is the adverb of "good."

In the sentences "I am good" and "I am well," the verb is "am." So, they are right about that, but "am" is not a normal verb. It is a linking verb, and that's the point they miss. A linking verb is followed by an adjective or a noun (called the subject complement). For example:
  • I am flamboyant.
  • (Here, "flamboyant" is an adjective. It is the subject complement following "am.")
  • I am a man.
  • (Here, "man" is a noun. It is the subject complement following "am.")

Be Careful with Linking Verbs

It is a common mistake to follow a linking verb with an adverb. This happens most commonly with "to smell," "to look," and "to taste." For example:
  • The dinner tastes wonderfully. wrong cross
  • (This should be "wonderful.")
  • She looked amazingly. wrong cross
  • (This should be "amazing.")
Be careful though. Look at this example:
  • The dog smells bad. correct tick
  • (Here, the adjective "bad" describes the smell of the dog.)
  • The dog smells badly. correct tick
  • (Here, "smells" is not a linking verb. The adverb "badly" tells us how the dog smells.)
Read more about linking verbs.

A Trick to Help with "Good" and "Well"

A good way to determine whether you need the adjective "good" or the adverb "well" is to use the word "quick" instead. If you find yourself drawn to "quickly," then you need "well" (as both are adverbs). However, if you find yourself drawn to "quick," then you need "good" (as both are adjectives).

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are adjectives? What are adverbs? What are linking verbs? List of easily confused words

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