So many do not know the difference between “good” and “well.”
I often think about the legacy I want to leave behind, and truth be told, I would LOVE if my legacy included helping the citizens of the US learn the difference between “good” and “well.”
When I taught this concept in my English classes, I challenged my students to teach five others, thus, helping me start my legacy.
However, I still have a lot of people to go.
So join me and become one of the elite few who truly knows the difference—or at least cares enough to use the correct one. If you are really awesome, you could also teach five other people.
Let’s spread this knowledge like wildfire.
- “Good” is an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns.
- “Well” is an adverb. Adverbs describe action verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
If you didn’t understand all that English jargon, no worries. It will all make sense soon.
The Difference in Practice
“Well” in practice—describing action verbs
I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you cannot sing good, play good, or read good. You can’t do good either.
I know . . . I know . . . I am a jerk who has destroyed your dreams. I am worse than Simon Cowell because I have critiqued your abilities before even meeting you.
Why? Because sing, play, read, and do are all actions (verbs), and they cannot be described by using “good.”
You can sing well, play well, or read well. Anything you are able to DO, you can do well, but never good.
- You sing well.
- You read well.
- You did well on the test.
“Good” in practice—describing nouns
When you describe a person, place, or thing (nouns), “good” is the correct one to use.
- You are a good person.
- That was a good vacation.
- You are a good actor.
- That is a good, sturdy table.
Side by side comparison
|Good in Use||Well in Use||Explanation|
|You are a good singer.||You sang well.||Sentence 1 is describing a person—a singer(noun)—whereas sentence 2 is describing an action—sang (verb).|
|That was a good test.||I did well on the test.||Sentence 1 is describing a thing—a test(noun)—whereas sentence 2 is describing an action—did (verb).|
|He is a good teacher||He taught me well||Sentence 1 is describing a person—a teacher (noun)—whereas sentence 2 is describing an action—taught (verb).|
Assessing Your Understanding
Before we move on to the trickier uses of “well,” take this little test to assess your understanding of good versus well up to this point.
Tricky instance #1: Verbs like “feel” and “look” acting as linking verbs
So you know the popular cheer, “I feel good; oh I feel so good.” I’ve heard many an English teacher cringe and attempt to correct the cheerleaders. But in this case, the cheerleaders are right.
Who said cheerleaders were airheads? Only stupid Hollywood stereotypes.
The well-meaning English teachers point out that “feel” is a verb; therefore, you should use “well.”
But then that would mean one was describing his or her ability to feel.
Just like I sing well means you are good at singing and have the ability to sing.) I never knew feeling was a skill. But, hey, go ahead and brag about your feeling skills.
However, the cheerleaders are not saying they possess a great ability to feel and touch things.
They are actually describing themselves (a noun).
So it is “I feel good.”
It is also correct to say “He looks good.”
Here one is not describing his ability to look as if his eyes somehow work better than others.
The word being described in that sentence is “he,” and he is a person (noun), so “good” is correct.
In both of these cases, you could switch out the verb feel and the verb look with the linking verb am/is.
I am good.
He is good.
If ever you can switch out the verb to a state of being verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), then you are describing the noun (person or thing) not the verb.
Tricky instance #2: Answering the questions “How are you?” and “How are you doing?”
Lots of well-meaning people correct others when they answer “How are you?” with “good.” They will chastise the person and say, “No, you are well because ‘well’ describes verbs.”
This goes right along with tricky instance #1.
The verb in the question “How are you?” is a linking verb. Can you really describe “are”? No.
You are not describing the verb – you are describing YOU.
So saying “I’m good” is the correct answer. (Unless of course you are not good . . . but society seems to think you shouldn’t answer that question truthfully and just always say you are good.)
How are you?
How are you?
I am good.
This changes when the question goes from “How are you” to How are you doing?” Now the person is no longer asking about you, but rather how you are doing.
Doing is an action verb. So the answer to “How are you doing?” is “I am doing well.”
How are you doing?
How are you doing?
I am doing well.
Tricky instance #3: When you can be doing good
Just a second ago, I said the correct answer to “How are you doing” is “I am doing well.” However, when you are doing good deeds, you are no longer describing how you are doing, but rather you are describing your deeds (a noun) as being good ones.
So while you can’t say “I am doing good” when asked “How you are doing,” you can say you are doing good in context of your deeds.
- Have you done any good in the world today?
- I want to do more good in the world.
The word deeds has been left out of the sentence, but it is implied.
Tricky instance #4: “Well” to describe health
Earlier, I discussed how the cheer “I feel good” is correct. It is not “I feel well” because you are not describing your ability to feel.
However, if someone is inquiring after your health, the correct answer is “I feel well.”
When it comes to describing health, “well” is always correct.
Example:I didn’t feel well yesterday, but now I am feeling better.
Well=describing your health
Good= describing you
Did you just come out of major surgery, and you are now on the mend? Then you say “I am feeling well.”
Did you just win a date with Ted Hamilton? Then you say “I feel good.” Or you might even want to say “I feel freaking awesome!” I mean have you seen his abs.
Did you just do well on a test? Then you say “I feel good.”
Speaking of doing well on a test, let’s see how well you do on this “good” versus “well” part 2 quiz.
Assessing Your Understanding
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors, content writer and editor for business professionals, and online teacher and tutor.
As an editor, she acts as a beacon by building partnerships with authors and encouraging them.
She loves books and believes they have the power to transform lives. And as such, she wants to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an author’s message or story by reducing errors and strengthening their writing and plot and character development.
Visit her business website, follow or chat with her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you’re an author, take a look at her writing resources page to access free resources for you.