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Word Fact: Well vs. Good

good, well, chalkboard

You may have been scolded for saying, I’m good, instead of the more formal I’m well. But is the response I’m good actually incorrect? Not technically. Let’s explore the rules and conventions governing these two terms.

Well is often used as an adverb. Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Good is most widely used as an adjective, meaning that it can modify nouns. The expression “I am good” causes some to bristle because they hear an adjective where they think an adverb should be. But adjectives (like good) are used in combination with linking verbs like smell, taste, and look. A linking verb connects or establishes an identity between the subject and predicate, as opposed to an action verb which expresses something that the subject can do. Linking verbs take adjectives, whereas action verbs take adverbs. Think about the sentence: Everything tastes good. It would sound strange to say Everything tastes well, and the adjectival good is correct in these cases. Typically when well is used as an adjective after look or feel, it often refers to health: You’re looking well; we missed you while you were in the hospital. In general, use well to describe an activity or health, and good to describe a thing.

To go back to common complaint above: in that instance, either good or well work because they both function as adjectives, and that phrase is widely used in informal, colloquial speech. However, in formal speech or edited writing, be sure to use well when an adverb is called for as in He did well on the quiz.

Well gets even more confusing when we consider adjectival phrases like well-known, well-worn, and well-mannered. How do you know when to hyphenate these phrases? Find out in our primer on hyphens.

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71 Comments

  1. potatoman -  August 17, 2016 - 9:21 am

    ayee its jacob

    Reply
    • potatoman -  August 17, 2016 - 9:22 am

      you are trash

      Reply
  2. Rashad Mc Phail -  June 4, 2016 - 4:51 pm

    What about if you do something in a positive manner? Is it “I am well at…” or “I am good at…”?

    Reply
    • Missy -  July 21, 2016 - 4:30 pm

      How about “I do very well with . . .” (at, etc.) Would that work?

      Reply
  3. Sean -  June 3, 2016 - 2:45 pm

    The best way to resolve this is if you are asked them use what my red neck father would say “fair to middelen.”

    Reply
    • Jason -  August 27, 2016 - 2:02 pm

      The phrase is: “Fair to middling”"(the word middling is pronounced mid-lin, but the spelling of the word is as mentioned). The etymology of this phrase dates back to the nineteenth century and references cotton and/or produce terminology. The terms are as follows: Good, fair, middling, ordinary, poor. The phrase is derived from the idea that fair and middling are in the centre and therefore are neither good, nor poor, but in the middle; mediocre.

      Reply
  4. Arthur -  February 18, 2016 - 5:40 am

    ok…so I’m not an expert typist!

    Reply
    • cecelia -  February 24, 2016 - 10:34 am

      Thanks for this article! We were required to use proper grammar growing up, and most of it was by ear. If someone simply asks, “How are you?” I usually say “I’m good, and how are you?” (I’m asked this many times daily). If they reply “I’m well”, I know they are usually trying to correct me. If they asked “How is your health?”, then I would have had said “I’m well” ( or not well). No one except a doctor or a friend who heard I was sick ever asks me this.
      “Life is good”; the day is good; having a good time; “I feel good!”. If these are incorrect , maybe it’s because people aren’t really asking about your health, but how your day/life is going?

      Reply
      • Seth -  February 28, 2016 - 10:44 pm

        Someone has issues………

        Reply
  5. Arthur -  February 18, 2016 - 5:38 am

    Hmmmm…what if “I’m good” is a shortening of the complete sentence “I am in good health”?, which it certainly can be, or how about “I am in a good state of being”?, or how about the first person is asking about someone whom he knows to have been in a “BAD situation”, and noe the situation is much “better”, even “good”? Hmmmm…

    Reply
    • Pierce -  June 30, 2016 - 10:53 am

      It would then be colloquial. The article notes that in informal speech it’s pretty common and not necessarily wrong, but in formal speech or while editing (papers, books, etc.) then it would be more appropriate to use proper grammar.

      “…in that instance, either good or well work because they both function as adjectives, and that phrase is widely used in informal, colloquial speech. However, in formal speech or edited writing, be sure to use well when an adverb is called for as in He did well on the quiz.”

      Reply
  6. Erma Flanders -  January 27, 2016 - 8:42 am

    At the risk of sounding like a snobbish know-it-all, I am pretty sure that the content of this article is false. “Good” is definitely an adjective; however, saying, “I am good,” would mean that I am a good person e.g. someone who volunteers at a homeless shelter, goes to church, donates to charity, etc. “Well” is an adverb, it’s true, but does it really make sense in this context to say, “I am doing well”? That would mean that I am good at doing, which makes no sense at all.
    What does make sense is using “well” as an adjective. “Well” is simply the opposite of “ill” or “unwell”. If I am well, it means that I am in good health, which is really the proper response to a question such as, “How are you?”.
    This is what makes sense to me; please correct me if I’m wrong. I am only a freshman in highschool, but using the English language correctly is of great importance to me, and I thought I had this one figured out.

    Reply
    • Linda -  August 17, 2016 - 5:03 pm

      When someone replies good in response to how they are doing it would be the shortened version of saying I’m having a good day. In contrast, we have well which describes health more specifically. For those that are unaware of the difference, it’s a positive answer either way.

      Reply
  7. Will T -  March 5, 2015 - 5:39 pm

    In school we are learning about the use of well and good and it is really hard. The sentences are so confusing. My teacher told me that you use well when you are talking about health and you use good when you are using another type of phrase besides health.

    Reply
  8. joseph tukan -  February 19, 2015 - 11:22 am

    This is site is lifting my fears everyday.thank you from de bottom of my heart.

    Reply
    • Richa Tomar -  February 24, 2015 - 8:17 pm

      I agree with u joseph.

      Reply
  9. george toy -  February 19, 2015 - 1:42 am

    nice

    Reply
  10. ezra wekesa -  February 12, 2015 - 2:14 am

    iam is the auxilliary verb and therefore ie good is used then its an adverb

    Reply
  11. Coretha Fulton -  February 11, 2015 - 5:58 am

    I’d like to see a blog addressing the usage of “ex-” and “former.”

    Reply
  12. Tom -  February 10, 2015 - 2:53 pm

    My ear always twitches when I hear “Well paying job”. I would have said that a job that pays well is a good paying job. Is there a rule that sets this straight?

    Reply
    • Haru -  March 3, 2015 - 6:08 pm

      It isn’t a rule, but here is how I look at it. a well paying job simply pays better than most, or pays you and you have a little extra. A “good paying job” can be interpreted two ways. The job is good(you like it), and pays enough, or it simply pays better than most.

      Reply
    • onyx -  March 4, 2015 - 11:24 pm

      well-paying job

      Reply
    • Chris -  March 5, 2015 - 10:22 am

      Well refers to the pay, not the job, and so “well paying job” is the correct usage. It is better to consider the intended meaning rather than look for a rule. For example, you might think the phrase “I am well” is incorrect as this construction would normally require and adjective rather than an adverb. Its intended meaning however is that “I feel well” and it is therefore correct to use an adverb.

      Reply
  13. Richard -  February 10, 2015 - 1:41 am

    “You may have been scolded you for saying, I’m good, instead of the more formal I’m well” … Oops.

    Reply
    • Cherylyn -  March 9, 2016 - 8:29 am

      I don’t see a second ‘you’ in there. Does that mean they fixed it, or are you all seeing something that’s not there? btw This article makes perfect sense to me. I’ve never had a ‘good/well’ problem. It just comes naturally to me.

      Reply
  14. Pash-ur -  February 7, 2015 - 4:35 am

    I really luv it

    Reply
    • Anonymous -  April 15, 2016 - 7:52 am

      Lol
      Kiss it then

      Reply
  15. Enzo -  February 6, 2015 - 3:49 pm

    “Well, I tasted the water from the well and it was good. Er, or should I say well?.”

    Reply
  16. sally -  February 6, 2015 - 7:15 am

    Well, I think Mikey’s comment was good

    Reply
    • Ian Beale -  May 27, 2016 - 3:40 am

      i think its bad

      P.S. I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!

      Reply
  17. Adrienne -  February 6, 2015 - 5:51 am

    “I’m good” is a casual, slang response used in many different ways typically to briefly and promptly answer a request. Example: How are you? I’m good could mean I feel good, okay, fine and things in my life are going well. A waiter ask if you would like a refill and you say “No. I’m good” meaning you do not want anymore to drink.

    I say it quite often and it’s a very adaptable response. I hope this is helpful, but I’m good if it’s not. :-)

    Reply
    • Juby -  January 29, 2016 - 4:08 am

      I completely agree with you.

      Reply
  18. S.Kannan -  February 6, 2015 - 4:18 am

    Many youngsters do confuse between “well” and “good”. You have done well by publishing the difference.

    Reply
  19. Cindy Helen -  February 6, 2015 - 12:59 am

    Well, this isn’t yet clear to me.

    Reply
  20. peter steinmeijer -  February 5, 2015 - 9:36 pm

    i am good, not evil?????????????

    Reply
    • Clarissa -  February 22, 2015 - 8:42 am

      Lawful, neutral or chaotic?

      Reply
    • Aye -  April 15, 2016 - 7:53 am

      Idk

      Reply
  21. Ola Gabisi -  February 5, 2015 - 8:32 pm

    I believe the second “you” in the first sentence is a typing error

    Reply
    • TonyDahlinVenice -  February 16, 2015 - 7:25 am

      I believe all got it right!
      “Ola Gabisi – February 5, 2015 – 8:32 pm
      I believe the second “you” in the first sentence is a typing error” If not please let me know, TonyDahlinVenice

      Reply
  22. Nancy Botwin -  February 5, 2015 - 8:22 pm

    Well that’s all well and good. hee hee

    Reply
    • Michael McCarthy -  February 7, 2015 - 9:35 pm

      Nancy B. -
      You crack me up. Hee hee, yourself. ;-)

      Reply
  23. RH -  February 5, 2015 - 6:50 pm

    I see what you did there on the ‘good’ page. ‘Good, better, best’. Haha! But on the subject, I do think that in certain cases well and good interchangeably mean the same thing but also often mean different things when saying them in the same way. As someone pointed out, you may say ‘I’m good’ meaning you’re good at something. But good also can refer to good health as does well, and sentences like ‘I’m good’ or ‘I’m well’ are generally abbreviated from sentences like ‘I’m feeling well’ or ‘I’m feeling good’ both of which are correct and both of which have multiple meanings.

    Reply
  24. pancho shiell -  February 5, 2015 - 6:10 pm

    For those blessed with language(es) in addition to English, the well/good becomes a non-issue. For example, in Spanish, “I’m good” translates to “Soy bueno” means you are a good person …or that you’re “delicious” /”sexy” and it rings with foolish overtones. “How are you?” / “I’m good” then makes no sense. So, knowing other languages help you with English….really!

    Reply
  25. Khong Ming -  February 5, 2015 - 2:33 pm

    Good used an adverb seems to be more recent, even in a health situation.

    On TV someone in an accident situation may say, “It’s OK. I’m good.” (meaning “I’m not hurt, or at least not badly hurt.”) It sounds a lot better and more meaningful than saying, “It’s OK. I’m well.”

    For the non-native English speaker, it does not come easy. But well, we’re good!

    Reply
  26. Anne Williams -  February 5, 2015 - 2:00 pm

    Once upon a time, a wicked person was evil, and could be a murderer, My sis thought she saw a fairy, those tiny folk with gossamer wings. Queens were monarchs and we were happy and gay at parties. I worked in an office as a secretary/typist as working girl. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were glamorous but not glamour models. Sinks were in kitchens and bathrooms has basins to wash in . Why can we not call a spade a spade?
    The next time I ask someone how they are and get the answer. “I’m good shall say ,”Really, I’m bad “. I’m soooo not cool either!

    Reply
  27. Anne Williams -  February 5, 2015 - 1:51 pm

    Once upon a time a ‘naughty’ person was a very wicked , evil creature, even a murderer!! Those of us of a certain vintage were happy and gay at times!
    Flower festivals had floats decorated with gay blossoms. As a child, I wanted to dress like a fairy, those tiny folk with gossamer wings. Queens were monarchs. Pansies grew in pots!! I was trained to be a secretary and worked in an office as a working girl!
    Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell etc were very glamorous, they were not glamour models.
    Well I am sooo not ‘au fait. with the jargon of the younger generations and the next time I ask someone how they are and get the reply, ” I’m good” shall say, “Oh, I wish I was as I am very BAD indeed as I hate goody, goodies!!

    Reply
  28. Laura Bergang -  February 5, 2015 - 1:14 pm

    I remember almost no grammar rules (I’m OLD!) but I usually know what’s grammatically correct by ear. I find the above explanation of the rules rather difficult to understand (I never said I was SMART!). All I know is that when someone says, “I’m good,” I feel like replying, “I’m not asking about your character, I just want to know how you FEEL”!!! BTW, I think the lay and lie business is HOPELESS. Excuse me, I have to go and lay down.

    Reply
    • Alma -  February 5, 2015 - 2:09 pm

      In my country, where I learne English we were taught the correct way to use well and good.

      Reply
      • Alma -  February 5, 2015 - 2:11 pm

        Oops, omitted the d in learne(d)

        Reply
    • Cherie Grogan -  February 5, 2015 - 9:40 pm

      I am old school. My father is 90, and he still knows every rule in the original book of rules. Once in a blue moon, he still corrects my grammar, but I try hard to use correct grammar, so as not to give him a chance to correct me!

      Reply
    • Carlos -  February 6, 2015 - 8:43 am

      Ha ha ha
      That is good … or well

      If there were a Like button I would click there.

      Reply
      • Ian Beale -  May 27, 2016 - 3:42 am

        AHA only joking #banter

        Reply
    • Clarissa -  February 22, 2015 - 8:46 am

      I know, it’s so grating! My response, too, is, “I’m not asking about your behaviour or skill level!”

      I hear “I’m good” every day at work, and my efforts to reform my colleagues, alas, fail every time.

      Reply
    • Skip Wild -  March 3, 2015 - 7:27 pm

      I taught middle school English for years, stressing grammar, diagramming sentences, etc. The one rule I skipped every year was “the lay/lie business.” I simply did not get it. Still don’t.

      Reply
  29. David Lee -  February 5, 2015 - 1:09 pm

    You left out one very common use of the word, “well,” that is often found in literature; and that is when it’s used to show a pause in the thinking process.
    “Well, I don’t know about that!”

    Reply
  30. Francis Butler -  February 5, 2015 - 12:50 pm

    I wonder whether your analysis of the difference between ‘well’ and ‘good’ is explained well enough. ‘I’m good’ technically means something very different from ‘I’m well’. A good boy might not be well whereas a bad boy might be well! Surely the question is how the word ‘well’ mutated from being ( in this instance) an adverb into an adjective. For those of us who continue to claim to be well the mistake is glaringly obvious! Language, however, continues to evolve regardless of the pedants ….

    Reply
  31. Wayne Hight -  February 5, 2015 - 12:50 pm

    You done good.

    Reply
  32. Jay St. Claire -  February 5, 2015 - 12:48 pm

    I was taught that “good” referred to the state of being “not bad”. So, when you say you are “good”, you are referring to the fact that you are not bad. When you say you are “well”, you are saying that your life is going along as it should, you are healthy and life is good, as opposed to bad.

    Is this incorrect?

    Reply
    • Albert Maluleke -  February 6, 2015 - 6:31 am

      Lets not use street english all the time , specially when we talk to the olders .

      Reply
    • Jacqueline Lair -  February 6, 2015 - 9:20 am

      I hear “good” I see a sign of religion. I find the use of the word “good” as being a sign of God being involved.
      Good being a Godly word

      For those who do well,good things may come

      Reply
  33. Dale Petersen -  February 5, 2015 - 12:03 pm

    Please explain your first sentence to me, “You may have been scolded you for saying, . . .”. The sentence does not make sense to me. Thank you.

    Reply
    • ben -  February 5, 2015 - 2:34 pm

      2Dale Petersen
      Just drop the 2′nd ‘you’ .
      Is it making more sense now?

      Reply
  34. Harvey Wachtel -  February 5, 2015 - 11:49 am

    The adverb “well” has a different, only slightly related, meaning than the adjective”well”. The adverb “well” is an irregular adverbial form of the adjective “good”; if “good” converted the way most adjectives do, we would say “he performed very goodly” (note that we do say “badly” in this context). The adjective “well”, on the other hand, means, approximately, “healthy”, and is used *only* as a predicate adjective.

    In careful writing or speech, one would say “I am well” after recovering from a bout of flu and “I am good” after doing well on a test, although the latter statement might brand the speaker as an obnoxious braggart.

    Reply
  35. Richard Fruzia -  February 5, 2015 - 11:40 am

    I really like to have a place to go when I have a question on how to apply a word properly.

    Reply
  36. mikey -  February 5, 2015 - 9:51 am

    Well hell, I don’t feel good about this.

    Reply
    • David Lee -  February 5, 2015 - 1:48 pm

      milkey: Your comment is grammatically incorrect. You’re using “well” to show a pause in the thinking process; therefore it must be written as such:
      Well, Hell! I don’t fell good about this. The word “well” must have a comma following it in that usage.

      Reply
      • David Lee -  February 5, 2015 - 1:58 pm

        Wow! I criticize “mikey” and not only spell his name wrong, but then I make the same error. The word, “therefore” in my comment should have, of course, a comma following it.

        Reply
    • Bob G -  February 5, 2015 - 1:56 pm

      LOL

      Reply
      • Bob G -  February 5, 2015 - 1:59 pm

        Mikey that is funny!!!!! LOL!!!!

        Reply
    • Shancie -  February 6, 2015 - 7:55 am

      Mikey, thank you for the humor!!! I needed that today!

      Reply

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