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The Naughty Grammarian: When to Use Good vs. Well; Bad vs. Badly

Updated on February 25, 2017

The confusion of "good," "well," "bad" and "badly"

Today Miss Grammers wishes to address the confusion surrounding the issue of when to use ”good” and when to use “well,” and the closely related topic of when to use “bad” and when to use “badly.”

Good? Well? Bad? Badly?

There is a lot of confusion about when to use "good" and "well" and "bad" and "badly."
There is a lot of confusion about when to use "good" and "well" and "bad" and "badly." | Source

Miss Grammers is an eminent authority on all matters of grammar and so must take on this arduous task. One would hope that the correct usage was immanent--so deeply instilled into the brain that it would require no lesson. Unfortunately, people are constantly getting it wrong, especially when they are trying to get it right. Miss Grammers expects that the wailing and gnashing of teeth is imminent as her loyal readers attempt to absorb the intricacies of English grammar.

As a little warm-up for the rigors to follow, Miss Grammers asks you to consider the following three words which sound alike, but have totally different meanings.

Eminent, Immanent, Imminent

Word
Definition
Eminent
Famous, respected
Immanent
Inherent, intrinsic
Imminent
About to happen

A quick review of basic grammar

Miss. Grammars feels that it will be helpful to have a quick review of the parts of speech before proceeding to the issue of “good” vs. “well” and “bad” vs. “badly.”

Nouns and pronouns are modified by adjectives. “Good” and “bad” are adjectives.

Verbs are modified by adverbs. “Well” and “badly” are adverbs.

So far, so good. Miss Grammers is confident that everyone already knows this. Nonetheless, Miss. Grammers would bet that nearly everyone has made a few mistakes in this area. Sometimes people try to use the adjective “good” when they should use the adverb “well.” Miss Grammers finds this extremely annoying and hopes she will not have to remind you about this again.

Melanie kissed Doug well. [Not kissed good]

Melanie had learned her lesson well. [Not learned good]

Melanie loved Doug all too well. [Not loved too good]

Similarly, if Melanie was inept at kissing, we would say

Melanie kissed badly.” [Not kissed bad, because "kissed" is a verb]

“Melanie is bad kisser. [The adjective “bad” is used because it modifies the noun, “kisser.” Miss Grammers has never seen people try to use the adverb “badly” in place of the adjective, “bad”, but this example is included for the sake of completeness.]

In the following sentence, we have “good” modifying the noun “kisser” and “well modifying the verb “kissed.”

Melanie was a good kisser and she kissed him well.

Is it "bad" or "badly"?

There is confusion about when to use "bad" and when to use "badly."
There is confusion about when to use "bad" and when to use "badly." | Source

An explanation of action verbs and linking verbs

Now Miss Grammers is going to throw in something a little more complicated. Does anyone remember the difference between action verbs and linking verbs? It is important to determine if the verb is an action verb or a linking verb because action verbs require adverbs and linking verbs require adjectives.

An action verb, as the name implies, describes an action. In the sentence below “grabbed” and “kissed” are action verbs. They are modified with the adverbs “impetuously” and “fiercely.”

Melanie impetuously grabbed Doug’s arm and kissed him fiercely.

Linking verbs are also called “helping verbs” or “copulative verbs” because they connect a subject with another verb. (Miss Grammers hopes that no one giggled at the term “copulative verb.”) A linking verb always comes before a main verb.

Melanie kept insisting that Doug is in love with her. [“Kept” is a linking verb in this sentence.]

It’s complicated because linking verbs can also be action verbs.

Melanie kept her thoughts to herself. [Kept is an action verb in this sentence.]

The verb “to be” in all its forms (am, is, are, was, were, will) is a linking verb. It main function is to link the subject to whatever follows.

Melanie is a young lady in love.

Linda was spying on Melanie.

Melanie will be left alone soon.

Is it "good" or "well"?

There is some confusion about when to use "good" and when to use "well."
There is some confusion about when to use "good" and when to use "well." | Source

An explanation about sensing verbs

Verbs related to seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling are sensing verbs. They can be action verbs or linking verbs depending on how they are used. When they describe doing something they are action verbs, and when they describe emotions or states of being they are sensing verbs. [Note: “To hear” is always an action verb.]

Thus “Melanie smells good” means Melanie has applied a nice perfume, but Melanie “smells well“ means her olfactory organ (her nose) is in good working order.

Likewise, “Melanie feels good” means she is experiencing pleasant feelings, but “Melanie feels well” means either she is in good health or she has a very good sense of touch.

If someone were to ask you “How are you?” you could answer. “I am good” meaning your current state of being is good or you could answer “I am well” meaning you are not sick.

Have you insulted someone and now you feel remorse? You should say “I feel bad about insulting you” because bad is describing “feel,” a sensing verb and what you want to convey is that the way you are feeling is bad. However, if you are a cold person who does not have feelings for others, then perhaps you should say “I feel badly,” meaning you find it difficult to have feelings.

Similarly, if you are unhappy, you feel bad, but if you have burnt your fingers and have reduced tactile sensation, you would feel badly.

An explanation of a predicate adjective

A predicate adjective, also known as a complement, is an adjective that comes after a linking verb instead of before a noun. A predicate adjective refers back to the noun or pronoun of the sentence.

In the sentence “Melanie feels good,” “good” is a predicate adjective because it comes after the linking verb “feels” and it describes the subject of the sentence, Melanie. “Feels” is a sensing verb and it describes a state of being. (If Melanie “feels well,” it means she is not sick.)

Similarly, in the sentence “Melanie looks good”, “good” is a predicate adjective because it describes the subject of the sentence, Melanie. “Looks” is a sensing verb and it describes the state of Melanie’s appearance.

In the sentence, “Melanie is being good,” “good” is a predicate adjective because it describes the state of being of the subject of the sentence, Melanie.

A quick trick

Here is a little trick to help you discern if you are using a linking verb. Because “to be” is always a linking verb” you can replace the verb in a sentence with a form of the verb “to be.” If the sentence sounds right, you probably have a linking verb and it requires an adjective. If it sounds wrong, use the adverb.

For instance “Melanie feels bad” can be changed to “Melanie is bad,” therefore you can assume that “feels” is a linking verb that requires an adjective.

However, if you try to change “Melanie feels badly” to “Melanie is badly”, the sentence doesn’t make any sense. Replace “badly” with “bad.”

A few simple rules

You should say “well” if the verb in your sentence is an action verb.

You should say “well” if you are referring to health.

You should say “well” if you are answering the question “How?” For example, “How did she do on the test? She did well.”

.You should say “good” when the verb in your sentence is a linking verb which is describing the noun or pronoun that precedes the verb.

Be careful with sense verbs because they can be used as both action verbs and linking verbs.

I'm Silently correcting Your Grammer.

Threadrock Unisex Baby I'm Silently Correcting Your Grammar Infant Bodysuit
Threadrock Unisex Baby I'm Silently Correcting Your Grammar Infant Bodysuit

Miss Grammers wore this when she was a baby. It comes in half a dozen colors. You can get adult-sized t-shirts with this saying on it. Mugs, too. Just click the "buy now" button to see the whole line.

 

A Quick Poll

Which statement best expresses your feelings after studying this lesson?

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Miss Grammers

The eminent Miss Grammers is watching you.
The eminent Miss Grammers is watching you. | Source

Who is Miss Grammers?

Miss Grammers may be a bit old-fashioned in her insistence that everyone who speaks and writes the English language should do it well. This passion for correct English may seem persnickety to some. It is as if they think that Miss Grammers thinks that the end of all of Western civilization is imminent if the intricacies of English grammar are not well understood.

The truth is Miss Grammers merely wishes to be the eminent authority on all matters grammatical. Surely, she should be allowed to feel good about this.

It is regrettable if anyone should think that Miss Grammers’ passion for correct English usage means that she is not a fun-loving person. Invite Miss Grammers out for a drink one evening and you will see the immanent quality of joy that suffuses her whole being.

Test Yourself.


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Read all the Naughty Grammarian posts.

This post is one of a series of posts by "The Naughty Grammarian." Follow the adventures of Melanie and Doug and learn a bit of grammar along the way.

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

I'd love to have your thoughts on this issue.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Yes, goatfury I see it. You made me laugh. Thank you. I'm glad you find my little grammar lesson useful.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      There should be more stuff like this out there. Keep it up!

      Well done.

      Good job.

      See what I did there?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Iris: Well-ly--that's not bad. I like that. Thanks for the comment.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      How did I miss this one? I just saw it on your profile page. I absolutely love these. They make me laugh and I always learn from them. I do bookmark them for future use. Now I shall go apply my new knowledge well-ly (just kidding!). :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your comment Marina. It's nice to feel confident instead of feeling bad.

    • profile image

      Marina 2 years ago

      I have been always feeling bad about feel bad or feel badly but now I feel better because I am not the only!!! Thanks a lot for the lesson.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I'm not an English teacher; I just pretend to be one on HubPages. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope you found the lesson useful.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      It is convoluted stuff, but you explain it well. I had some pretty persnickety teachers, and I value the lessons they imparted. English teachers are certainly a different lot, eh?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Brit: When in Rome.. Actually, the difference between English in GB and US are funny. I still remember the first someone said they would "knock me up." Nice to hear from you.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 2 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      Absolutely! I am very old fashioned too when it comes to grammar. Although this can conflict with my Yorkshire upbringing because, for example, in Yorkshire when someone is ill they are 'badly'. :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for the comment and the vote and I'm so happy that you are feeling good.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      " I feel good about how well I have learned this lesson." Voted Up.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Yes the visual with the auditory helps a lot. I still query my own decisions and make mistakes occasionally. Does us good to be kept on our toes!

      Ann

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you, Jodah. I try to make it as simple, and as entertaining, as I can.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you Ann for your comment. Although I have a good command of English usage, every time I write a grammar piece, I learn stuff. It is all so convoluted, I don't know how ESL students ever learn it. My feeling is if you apply the rules when writing, it will eventually become second nature when speaking.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      As always, you explain this well. I'm so grateful I had brilliant teachers when I was learning English grammar. It was instilled into us and is now second nature. However, having taught foreign students I understand how difficult it can be! It helps to know the fundamentals of adjective and adverb.

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I enjoyed this lesson Miss Grammars. Thank you for explaining the correct usage of "good, well, bad and badly".