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The Naughty Grammarian: When to Use Good vs. Well; Bad vs. Badly
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?
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
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"?
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"?
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.
A Handy Reference Guide
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.
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?
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.
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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