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Grammar Mishaps: Good vs. Well

Updated on July 25, 2013

Good or Well?

The general rule with good and well is that well is an adverb and good is an adjective. What this means is that well modifies verbs, adjectives and other adverbs and good modifies nouns.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to this rule just to keep us on our toes. "Well" may be used when describing if something is proper, healthy or suitable. As in, "I am well (healthy) today."

Examples

  1. That is a good song. (Good is modifying the noun, song.)
  2. You sang the song very well. (Well is modifying the verb, sang.)
  3. The bike is pedaling well. (Well is modifying the verb, pedaling.
  4. The car is in good shape. (Good is modifying the noun, car.)

Exceptions

One exception is with the use of verbs of sensation like touch, feel, looks, hears, and smells. It would be proper to say, "The cake smells good." To say that the cake smells well would imply that the cake has a nose that can smell appropriately. So, to add more confusion, it is also correct to say, "I feel good today." Good refers to how you are physically and spiritually feeling.

How are you feeling?

I feel good. (Think of James Brown's "I Feel Good".)

How are you?

I am well, thank you.

Questions & Answers

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        reemo 5 years ago

        Thanks for your valuable information , but can you tell me please what is the difference between be good at and do well as

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        Kristina 6 years ago

        Should I tell someone to "do good at your game" or "do well at your game"?

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        Patricia 6 years ago

        What are the rules for doing well vs. Going well.

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        JonnyRichta 6 years ago

        2 things:

        First off, the part about how a cake smells has an implication: "The cake smells [like it is] good." 'good' being appropriate because 'is' is a 'to be' verb, which is what adjectives are use for. E.g.: "The good man is good".

        Also, the last part where you distinguish the difference by saying:

        "How are you?"

        "I am well"

        Whereas 'well' is appropriate here, 'good' works also because the question addresses a state of being. However, if I asked, "how are you DOING?" you would say, "I am doing well."

        Because as we know, Superman does good, you do well.

        Hope that helps!

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        Tom 6 years ago

        Isn't it also the case that "well" is a state of being, so a cake can't be well because it does not have varying states of being.

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        hannah 7 years ago

        "The car is in good shape"

        Wrong. It modifies shape.

      • profile image

        Dogger 7 years ago

        i like this english website thang keep me on my tows

      • profile image

        Steve 7 years ago

        Someone once told me in the military a junior would respond with very well to a senior and the senior would respond with very good to a junior.

      • profile image

        Karen 7 years ago

        Which of these is correct:

        I slept well.

        I slept good.

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        iteach3rs 7 years ago

        On a recent field trip, I asked one of my students how they were doing- to which they replied, "I'm good". I proceeded to correct them (gently) and reminded them that "I am well" is proper grammar. About this time, my principal (who was along on the trip) proceeded to give me a mini lesson about how "am" is a linking verb and therefore it wouldn't be proper grammar unless you said, "I am doing well". While I agree that "I am doing well" is acceptable, my question to you is was I incorrect in saying "I am well"? Thanks for the clarification! :)

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        ann is dumb 7 years ago

        we'll means we will. you would not start a sentence with "we will, if you asked me yesterday i would have said..." you start it with "well, if you asked me yesterday..."

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        Flingwing 7 years ago

        Your explanation is incorrect:

        "The car is in good shape. (Good is modifying the noun, car)".

        "Good is modifying the noun "shape". Shape here is a synonym for "condition". Condition is the name of an attribute. So good should modify that noun, shape.

        No charge :-)

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        david 7 years ago

        referring to my wrestling performance "...I might as well do good." or "...I might as well do well"?

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        Tim 8 years ago

        I reckon I should have said "was both 'good' and 'deserved,'" rather than "were both 'good' and 'deserved,'" since the trip was in the past. But I'm sure that's covered in a different topic. "If I were you, I'd..." is okay. "If I was late for the meeting last week..." is correct, too. Okay, I'll go home now.

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        Tim Cherepko 8 years ago

        Jim, http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000127.htm should help. It should be well-deserved. "Well-deserved" is describing the trip. If the trip were both "good" and "deserved," you could say that he took a good, deserved trip.

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        Jim 8 years ago

        He is acting well but he is being good. What's the difference?

        "He took a well deserved trip." Doesn't well describe trip? Shouldn't this be "a good deserved trip?"

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        Ann 8 years ago

        I want to know in dialogue when you start a sentence with 'well' as in "Well, if you asked me that yesterday I would have said..." Is that Well or We'll?

      • profile image

        antiGabe 8 years ago

        Gabe,

        You prove that "I am good" is a grammatically complete sentence, but you do not prove its application. As stated before, "I am good" is a legitimate sentence, but it isn't "hyper-correction" to change to well.

        "I am evil," said Steve.

        "Oh really? I am good," said Luke.

        "I am a bit under the weather this morning," said Steve.

        "That's unfortunate. I am well,' said Luke.

        Using "well" to describe your state of being is correct. Using "good" to describe your state of being works in general conversation, but is ambiguous. You're not really saying what you mean to when you use "good."

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        Michael 8 years ago

        You could say that "Somebody did good" if you meant good as in like community service. Someone can do good for the community. I assume in that case good could be a noun. is that correct?

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        Brad 8 years ago

        See above. I think it's a good argument for "I am good."

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        voldemort 8 years ago

        hahahahaha. THANK U SO MUCH!!!! i needed this rly bad 4 a skool prjct so u are a life saver!! no joke. now my essays gonna be good and im gonna do well in englich this semester! haha

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        Susie 8 years ago

        My elementary teacher used to always teach us- "People ARE good and they DO things well".

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        Mike 8 years ago

        "Look" and "Feel" both have an active and passive meaning. It would be correct to say "I feel well with my hands" (active) or "I feel good, better than yesterday when I was sick" (passive). Likewise you can "look well" when using your eyes (active, though that sounds awkward) but my significant other "looks good" (passive).

        I am under the impression that there are other verbs with the same active/passive distinction, though I cannot think of them. But it is the active/passive distinction that that determines whether the verb is modified with an adjective (passive) or an adverb (active).

        The verb "am" is less clear to me if it is active or passive; both "I am well" or "I am good" sound right to me, though I think "I am good" is used more after a question like "Would you like more desert?"

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        Rachael 8 years ago

        Saying "I get paid WELL." is better than saying "I get paid GOOD." Correct?

      • profile image

        Yza 8 years ago

        Very nice explanation.

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        Gabe 9 years ago

        In the sentence "I am good", [am] is a linking verb; therefore, [good] is thusly a predicate adjective. Just like we say 'the car is red' (not redly)... or 'the emo-boy is sad' (not sadly). Likewise, there's no need to hyper-correct 'good' with 'well'.

        I'm good is perfectly fine, just like the sky is blue, the clouds are white, and pedants are pissed. ;-)

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        Adam 9 years ago

        Vitali,

        About your concerns; I think that 'we heard it perfectly' is correct because in this instance, perfectly, an adverb, is describing the past-tense verb, heard.

        "How did you hear the music? Perfectly. We heard it perfectly."

        I don't know if that was what you were looking for and I'm only a burgeoning young grammist (see?). I hope that answered your question.

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        David  9 years ago

        what about the statement "Make sure you brush your teeth well (or good)"

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        Vitali 9 years ago

        Fantastic site! An exercise I completed on another site had the following two answers as being correct:

        1. The gas smelled dangerous.

        2. We heard it perfectly.

        This suggests to me that to hear is not a verb of appearance; otherwise the adjective perfect would have been appropriate to use.

        Any ideas?

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        pati 9 years ago

        you did a good job, "good" being an adjective describing job (a noun) but you did well, "well" being an adv. modifying the verb "did"

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        Ian 9 years ago

        I'm curious about the use of "good" with variations of the word "do". A specific question I have is about the use of the word "good" in the following sentance :

        "How did he do?"

        He did pretty good.

        It sounds a little off, maybe it's just bad grammer. But what about when you add to the sentance:

        He did a good job.

        It wouldn't be "He did a well job". But does the addition of the word "a" change the structure of the sentance?

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        Jake 9 years ago

        It would be correct to say "I have a good education" because "good" is modifying (or enhancing) the noun "education."

        I am just a wandering stranger, but I figured I would answer that question quick.

        Kudos on this page Jonathon.

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        kate 9 years ago

        hi nice site

        im horrible at grammer so when i have a Question i will ask it! Would you say "I have a well education.", or, "I have a good education."

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        Chris 10 years ago

        That is the best response to my question yet! I've been to ten different websites trying to figure out this question of well vs. good. Thank you, Jonathan VS!

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        Jonathon VS 10 years ago

        Andrea, it depends on what you are trying to describe. If you say, "I feel well," that could mean that you knew how to feel things skillfully. Rather, you would say, "I feel good," because you are describing yourself, not "feel."

        Similarly, if you say, "I am good," it could mean that you are stating that you are not evil, but good. However, if you say, "I am well," you eliminate all ambiguity, because the only way anyone could construe that sentence is that you are healthy and feeling okay (unless they are ungifted in English and think you are stating that you are a well).

        At the end of the day, it's just as much about what makes sense as what is proper grammar. I hope that answers your question.

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        Andrea Cianci 10 years ago

        How come you can answer "How are you feeling" with"I am feeling good", but cannot answer "How are you?" with "I'm good."????

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        still trying to clarify 10 years ago

        Since I can only think of one person who would be exceptional in "feeling" I will use this example. If someone asked Helen Keller "How are you?" she would reply "I am well" (or, if the opposite was true, "I am sick") If someone asked her, "How do you feel?" she would exercize her nimble fingers, smile, and say "I feel good!" thus explaining how good she is at feeling. Would this be accurate?

      • profile image

        angel 10 years ago

        watz popin i be that one and only angel holla back at me

      • profile image

        angel 10 years ago

        watz popin i be that one and only angel holla back at me

      • profile image

        angel 10 years ago

        watz popin i be that one and only angel holla back at me

      • Robin profile image
        Author

        Robin Edmondson 10 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks xmans! I look forward to reading more of your hubs about China!

      • xmans profile image

        xmans 10 years ago from Guangzhou

        You baby is so lovely and I am glad to be your friends

      • Robin profile image
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        Robin Edmondson 11 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Urban Aspirations. I like that Hubpages has a lot of different sides too, not just rants. I look forward to hearing more about your non-profit!

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        Urban Aspirations 11 years ago

        Enter a comment This is my first time so be gentle with me. I like the fact I can go on line and get lessons in gramar. I find this hub kind of refreshing compared to all the ranting and raging I ussually read on blogs. I just became a member and I am a fan of yours already. Keepm up the excellent work. My hub will more than likely contain info about my new upstart non profit organization "Urban Aspirations" and Ill probably be shamelessly begging for money or support or more money, I'll try to keep it tastefull and non intrussive fun even.

      • Ralph Deeds profile image

        Ralph Deeds 11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

        Thanks. That elucidates the nice distinction between precipitate and precipitous.

      • Robin profile image
        Author

        Robin Edmondson 11 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Ralph. I wasn't sure about that one, so I looked it up. The best answer I found is here: http://www.alphadictionary.com/goodword/word/preci... Glad to see you're back!

        Robin

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        Ralph Deeds 11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

        How about "precipitate" vs. "precipitous"? As in yesterday the stock market dropped "precipitately" or "precipitously?"