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Good vs. Well

Good is an adjective while well is an adverb answering the question how. Sometimes well also functions as an adjective pertaining to health.
Examples:
You did a good job.
Good describes job, which is a noun, so good is an adjective.

You did the job well.
Well is an adverb describing how the job was performed.

I feel well.
Well is an adjective describing I.

Rule:
With the four senses—look, smell, taste, feel—discern if these words are being used actively to decide whether to follow them with good or well. (Hear is always used actively.)
Examples:
You smell good today.
Good describes you, not how you sniff with your nose.

You smell well for someone with a cold.
You are sniffing actively with your nose here so use the adverb.

She looks good for a 75-year-old grandmother.
She is not looking actively with eyes so use the adjective.

Rule: When referring to health, always use well.
Examples:
I do not feel well today.
You do not look well.

Rule: When describing someone’s emotional state, use good.
Example: He doesn’t feel good about having cheated.

So, how should you answer the question, “How are you?” If you think someone is asking about your physical well-being, answer, “I feel well,” or “I don’t feel well.” If someone is asking about your emotional state, answer, “I feel good,” or “I don’t feel good.

 

Pop Quiz
1. She jogged very good/well for her age.
2. She had a good/well time yesterday.
3. With a high fever, it is unlikely he will feel good/well enough to play basketball tomorrow.
4. Those glasses look good/well on you.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. She jogged very well for her age.
2. She had a good time yesterday.
3. With a high fever, it is unlikely he will feel well enough to play basketball tomorrow.
4. Those glasses look good on you.

 

Posted on Friday, April 6, 2007, at 11:07 pm


80 Comments

80 Responses to “Good vs. Well

  1. Jane says:

    What can I say except thank you for the lovely acknowledgment. You made my day!

  2. engee says:

    Thank you, thank you, and thank you again, Jane Straus.
    Your web page seems to be something I’ve been looking for for so many years! It’s EXCELLENT!
    And now, speaking of the differences between the adjective ‘good’ and the adverb ‘well’. It wasn’t until a moment ago that I found out that you can use an adverb with the verbs of senses, like ‘smell’ or ‘look’. You presented the usage in a brilliant way! But, as I wrote earlier, I didn’t know that.
    Looking forward for any comment on my comment.

  3. engee says:

    Just the way as you did mine, Jane. From yesterday on, I’m going to be HERE every and each day of my presence on the Net! I’ve got so much helpful information to read in your brilliant Blue Book, and right here, in your extremely interesting Grammar Blog!
    Thank you.

  4. Jane says:

    You’re very welcome!

  5. Trinh Nguyen says:

    Can we answer “I’m good” if someone asks “How are you?” ?

    • Jane says:

      Technically, when referring to health, we should use “well.” However, so few people answer this way that “good” is becoming more accepted as a response.

      • rob in ny says:

        but health is not a verb, so why would you ise well?

        In the q and a: how are you, i am … the questioner is asking you to describe your condition. the answer should be an adjective.

        think about this: q. how is that car i sold you last month? would you answer, “it’s well?” no, you’d answer it’s good.

  6. Trinh Nguyen says:

    Thank you Jane for answering my question. I found your website is extremely helpful for a second language learner like me. Again, many thanks!

  7. Merissa says:

    Is it okay to say, “Either day works great for me!” Versus “Either day works well for me?”

  8. No says:

    No, it isn’t, it may be an adverb in American circles but if you are using English internationally then stay clear of it. Works great can suggest a lack of education, given it is actually an adjective….

  9. Leon says:

    I learned something from your excellent post. One thing that you do not address is the answer, “I am doing good.” to the question, “How are you?” This is incorrect unless they are telling you that they are doing something that is beneficial. The correct statement, when using doing, would be to say, “I am doing well.” The mistake would be similar to someone saying, “I do not smell very good.” when they mean that their sense of smell is not functioning as it should.

    • Jane says:

      You make an excellent point! We do hear “I am doing good” used quite often in response to “How are you?” It seems to be quite common in “informal” English. Since this is another phrase that seems to be frequently misused, we will consider adding it to our next edition of Grammarbook.

  10. Leon says:

    I just thought of something else. When someone asks, “How are you doing?” instead of “How are you?” what is the correct response?

    • Jane says:

      There are a number of different responses that could be used. A few examples might be:
      “I am doing well.”
      “I am doing fine.”
      “I am not doing well.”

  11. Carol says:

    I am thinking about wearing a sign that says, “…doing well” since it seems everyone in my world has begun to use the word good when they should be using well!! Any supporters out there?

  12. Louise Schneider says:

    What about “The cookies came out good.” meaning they were baked and they were good cookies . BUt should it be “well” ? Are we talking about how they came out or whether they tasted good?

    • Jane says:

      If you said, “The cookies came out good,” that would indicate that they came out tasting good. To remove any doubt, you could say, “The cookies came out tasting good.” If you said, “The cookies came out well,” that would indicate that the cookies were baked well.

  13. Tom says:

    Jane, you indicate above that “I am doing fine” is an appropriate response to the question, “How are you doing?” But how does “fine” in this case differ from using “good?”

    “I am doing fine.”
    “I am fine.”
    “I am doing good.”
    “I am good.”

    • Jane says:

      Saying “I am doing fine” would be similar to “I am doing very well.” Using the phrase “I am doing good” could be misinterpreted as “I am doing something beneficial.”

  14. Tom says:

    Yes, the interpretation issue makes sense; I guess what I was more unsure of was how “fine” was functioning differently from “good” in this case. Is “fine” functioning as an adverb, or is “am doing” functioning in a linking capacity, with “fine” modifying “I” in its usual role as an adjective?

  15. Jon says:

    Thanks for the concise explanation, but are there not 5 senses? Hear,look, smell, taste, feel? Thanks again for the good info.

    • Jane says:

      Since the sense verb hear is always used actively, we did not include it in the discussion. However, I can understand how people might wonder why it was left out. Therefore, I have included the following parenthetical sentence in each of the “Bad vs. Badly” and “Good vs. Well” blogs: (Hear is always used actively.)

  16. Andy says:

    Jane,

    Thanks! What a great site.

    Would you please settle a couple of friendly office disagreements for me?

    (1) You say that how to answer “How are you?” depends on whether you think the person is asking about physical or emotional well-being. Aren’t we usually asking both when we ask that question? Asking that question, I would expect to hear answers like “My mother just died” or “I just won the lottery” as well as “I have a cold” or “I just ran a marathon.” What about these instances where it appears the person wonders about both?

    (2) Would you agree “I feel good about my test yesterday” is always right and “I feel well about my test yesterday” is always wrong?

    Thanks,
    Andy

    • Jane says:

      In most common everyday interactions, “How are you?” is just a polite greeting where a detailed answer about physical health or one’s emotional state is not usually called for. The best, most grammatically correct way to answer to cover both the physical and emotional realms is not to use good or well at all but rather to say something like “I’m fine, how are you?”

      If you asked coworkers “How are you?” they could answer with one of the specific responses you mentioned, but in a full and grammatically correct way using good or well by saying:

      “I feel very good; I just won the lottery!”

      “Not so good; my mother just died.”

      “I’m not feeling well; I have a cold.”

      (In the case of the marathon, how the person feels may encompass both the physical and emotional realms and is more likely to be answered with more specific words like tired, spent, exhausted, elated, proud, etc. than with good or well.)

      I do agree with you on your second question.

  17. Jenny Bacon says:

    I came to this site because my son told me that his teacher said that any time one is talking about his health, he should say “I feel well” instead of “I feel good”. What you are saying on this site seems to agree with this theory, but the trouble I had is that since well is an adverb, then that sentence would seem to be saying how skilled of a “feeler” you are – as if you are doing a good job feeling. If one says that he feels good, therefore using “feel” as a linking verb, then I would think that “good” would be the word he would want, even to describe his health. If I were to say “I smell well” and “I smell good”, “smell well” would mean I am skilled at smelling, right? So what’s the difference with “feel”?

    • Jane says:

      The rule “When referring to health, always use well, ” takes precedence over any other usage. Therefore, an adverb may be used with a sense verb as long as it is referring to health.

  18. Larry Scott says:

    If you are referring to a body part that is hurting, do you use good or well?

    example: My stomach doesn’t feel very good.

    Should you use “good” or “well” to be correct grammatically?

  19. Richard says:

    I came across this site for the clarification of the following heard on the tv show ‘bachelor’ by Chris the host. His question, ‘it sounds like it’s going great’.
    My take is, for example, that wonderful and great are similar in that they are adjectives. It is clear that ‘it sounds like it’s going wonderful’ is missing the ‘ly’. Should not it be ‘… It’s going greatly’? Or choose a different word if that sounds off, while accurate.
    So what is correct? It’s going greatly – I haven’t heard that in forever perhaps given our declining language use. Lol, let’s hear it folks…

    • Jane says:

      Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary says that the word great can either be an adjective or an adverb. The entry for great as an adverb reads, “in a great manner : successfully, well .” In a formal context, you might reword to “It is going wonderfully” or “It is going very well.” I’m not surprised you have not heard It’s going greatly “in forever.” I don’t know whether it has ever been acceptable to use greatly in that way.

  20. ivan says:

    needa help?
    is this correct ?
    i am not turning to work today.My stomach not feeling well??

    do we use turning or attending? AND
    stomach not feeling well or i am not feeling well?

  21. Aliyah says:

    Is it ‘we’ve done good’ or ‘we’ve done well’?

  22. Rob says:

    A term that has recently come into use in South Africa is “They sent well wishes…” Instead of “They sent good wishes…” The former is wrong, but I would like to know the grammatical explanation. Regards, Rob.

    • Jane says:

      The word wishes is a noun, so you need an adjective to describe it. The word good is an adjective. Well is an adverb that answers the question how, as in the sentence “Your team played well today.”

  23. James says:

    I’d have to say you’re wrong when talking about your health. To be is a linking verb and describes the quality of the person.
    I am good is correct.
    I am well means that your quality of being able to exist is good.
    An orange tastes good not well.

    • Jane says:

      The two sentences I am good and I am well have different meanings. I am good means “I am virtuous, righteous, pious.” I am well means “I am in good health.”

      The sentence An orange tastes good is consistent with our rule “With the four senses–look, smell, taste, feel–discern if these words are being used actively to decide whether to follow them with good or well.” Only if an orange could do the tasting, could it taste well.

  24. Chris says:

    Thank You! That helped alot!

  25. akshay says:

    What is the grammatically correct answer to the question how are you?
    1.I am fine 2. I am good 3.I am doing fine. 4. I am doing good.
    also, please give reason(I read somewhere that the answer of ‘how’ should be an adverb.Is it correct?)

    • Jane says:

      Good is an adjective while well is an adverb answering the question how. The word well can be an adjective, too. When referring to health, we often use well rather than good. If you think the question is just a polite greeting, there are many possible answers, including, “I feel good,” “I am doing well,” and “I am fine.” (Saying “I am good” could imply that you are saying, “I am virtuous.”)

      • akshay says:

        okay,and is fine also an adverb in ‘I am fine’?I think it should be as it answers ‘how’,isn’t it?

        • Jane says:

          In the sentence “I am fine,” the word fine describes the pronoun I. Therefore, it is an adjective. In the sentence “I am doing fine,” the word fine describes the verb doing. Therefore, it is an adverb.

          • akshay says:

            ya,absolutely clear,thanks

          • Jane says:

            I would like to add a bit more information for you:
            “I am well” is the standard answer to “How are you?”
            “I am doing well” is another way of saying, “I am well.”
            “I am good” generally means “I am a good person.”
            “I am doing good” means “I am accomplishing things for the welfare of the world.”

  26. Ruthie says:

    Here’s one that’s trouble me: Speaking about movement in the show ring, I often hear, “That is a good-moving dog.” But should it be “well-moving”? I recently came across a similar construction: “a well-functioning training manual.” Can you help?

    • Jane says:

      You are correct that the grammatically correct phrases are well-moving and well-functioning. The use of good as an adverb is sometimes heard in spoken form and would be informal.

  27. Bagus Ismail says:

    I love it, you catch my mind. I’m so bright what you have written on your blog here. I’m Indonesian, so i wanna say “Terima kasih banyak” that means “thanks a lot”, your sharing is so helpful for me. See you then.

  28. Kevin says:

    At the beginning of this definition you’ve said, “‘Good’ describes ‘job’, so ‘good’ is an adjective.” To make a more easily comparable example of the difference between the use of the words ‘good’ and ‘well’, I would suggest stating, “‘Well’ describes ‘did’, which is a verb, so ‘well’ is an adverb.”

  29. Deepa says:

    Had been teaching my son and need ur help ..Which is the adverb in the follwoing sentences..and which degree of adverb is it

    1.It is not really a good time to talk to her

    2. It was soon time to say goodbye

    • In your first sentence the adverb is really. The adverb in the second sentence is soon. They are both positive adverbs because they express a quality without reference to any other thing. Both sentences need periods at the end to be grammatically correct.

  30. Ria says:

    Oh i understand !!!!!!!

  31. Caj says:

    What about:
    “It does my heart so good.” vs. “It does my heart so well.”?

    • The phrase “does my heart good” is an idiom meaning “make someone feel good emotionally.” The word “well” is never used in this phrase. An idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own.

  32. Shaina says:

    Hi there,

    Can you help me to know what would be correct? Is there a time that would work well for you or a time that would work good for you?

    Thanks so much for your feedback!

    Shaina

  33. Sandy Stricklin says:

    Jane,
    Which statement is correct?
    1. It didn’t work out very well for him.
    Or
    2.It didn’t work out very good for him.

    Thank you.

  34. Marcus Molineaux says:

    It doesn’t make sense to have well attributed to a physical state and good attributed to an emotional state.

    Good should be attributed to both physical and emotional, well should be attributed to the measurement of accuracy in the sense of touch.

    “I don’t feel well” Meaning your sense of touch is not up to par. “Well” is an adverb describing the measure of the verb “feel” in this case.

    Using good in “I don’t feel good” For emotional and physiological is describing the noun’s state regardless of the facet, and thus should be used for both situations.

    • In the sentence “I don’t feel well,” the word well is an adjective describing the word I. One of the dictionary definitions of the word well is an adjective meaning “in good health,” especially in reference to people when free of illness or injury.

  35. HC Alexander says:

    So I guess saying to someone “You done good” don’t work well?

  36. S Shah says:

    I feel well. Here well answers the question “How do you feel” and yet in the explanations it mentions that well is an adjective. Is well not an adverb adding to the verb well? how can we conclude that it is an adjective.

    • In the sentence “I feel well,” the word well is an adjective describing the word I. One of the dictionary definitions of the word well is an adjective meaning “in good health,” especially in reference to people when free of illness or injury.

  37. Catherine H says:

    In Bermuda they use the well rather than good to describe taste or smell. For example “that tastes well” or “that perfume smells well”. Funnily enough I remember some old Irish nuns from my childhood (in New Zealand) also used well in this context. Is this perhaps an old dialect usage that has persisted in isolated spots like Bermuda? I have been unable to find information on this.

  38. Carmelita M says:

    which is right -
    Do you hear me? or Do you hear me good? or Do you hear me well?
    Can you hear me? or Can you hear me good? or Can you hear me well?
    thank you.

    • “Do you hear me?” and “Can you hear me?” are both grammatically correct. You could also say, “Do you hear me well?” or “Can you hear me well?” under certain circumstances, such as testing the clarity of the sound of a device.

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