Learn the Difference between “Good” and “Well”

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 English speakers 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 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.

Technical Difference

  • “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 “good” doesn’t describe verbs.

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 UseWell in UseExplanation
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 teacherHe taught me wellSentence 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.

  1. Any day this week works (good/well) for me to meet.
  2. They did as (good/well) as they could with the little practice they had.
  3. He doesn’t speak very (good/well), but I can still understand him.
  4. He doesn’t speak very (good/well) English, but I can still understand him.
  5. With the storm last night, I didn’t sleep very (good/well).
  6. That was a (good/well) concert.
  7. She plays the piano very (good/well).
  8. Timothy’s car runs very (good/well).
  9. Samone is a (good/well) tennis player.
  10. Samone played (good/well) in the match.
  11.  The movie did (good/well) at the box office.
  12. That was a (good/well) movie.


Answers:

  1. Any day this week works well for me to meet. (describing verb “works”)
  2. They did as well as they could with the little practice they had. (describing verb “did”)
  3. He doesn’t speak very well, but I can still understand him. (describing verb “speak”)
  4. He doesn’t speak very good English, but I can still understand him. (describing noun “English”)
  5. With the storm last night, I didn’t sleep very well. (describing  verb “sleep”)
  6. That was a good concert. (describing noun “concert”)
  7. She plays the piano very well. (describing verb “plays”)
  8. Timothy’s car runs very well. (describing verb “runs”)
  9. Samone is a good tennis player. (describing noun “tennis player”)
  10. Samone played well in the match.  (describing verb “played”)
  11.  The movie did well at the box office. (describing verb “did”)
  12. That was a good movie. (describing noun “movie”)



Trickier Instances

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 their 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.”

Another Example:

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 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 grammar police people correct others when they answer “How are you?” with “good.” These grammar police 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: “are.” 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?
Good.

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?
Well.

How are you doing?
I am 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.

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

    1. Your blouse looks really (good/well) on you.
    2. You are looking (good/well) after your surgery.
    3. I don’t feel so (good/well). My head hurts.
    4. That hug felt so (good/well).
    5. That old guitar sounds (good/well) for its age.
    6. How are you?  I am (good/well).
    7. Man, that turkey smells so (good/well).
    8. How are you doing? I am (good/well).
    9. As a business owner, my mission is to do (good/well).


Answers:

    1. Your blouse looks really good on you. (“looks” is a linking verb here, so it is describing the noun “blouse,” not the ability to look)
    2. You are looking well after your surgery.  (always use “well” with health)
    3. I don’t feel so well. My head hurts. (always use “well” with health)
    4. That hug felt so good. (“felt” is a linking verb here, so it is describing the noun “hug,” not the ability to feel)
    5. That old guitar sounds good for its age. (“sounds” is a linking verb here, so it is describing the noun “guitar,” not sounds)
    6. How are you?  I am good. (describing yourself, which is a noun, so it is “good”)
    7. Man, that turkey smells so good. (“smells” is a linking verb here, so it is describing the noun “turkey,” not the ability to smell)
    8. How are you doing? I am well. (describing the verb “doing”)
    9. As a business owner, my mission is to do good. (this sentence is saying the mission is to to do good deeds in the world, not that the business is doing well).

 




Conclusion

“Good” describes nouns; “well” describes verbs. If you can remember that, you will always do well when determining whether to use “good” or “well.” So go out in the world and do some good by spreading this message!

Subscribe

If you would like to subscribe to my blog, click the button below.

About Me

With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

Lest you think I don’t have much of a life, I should add I also enjoy dancing, singing, acting, eating out, and spending quality time with my husband and adorable kids.

I’m pretty cool. And you may want to be my friend. But in order for that to happen, you will need to know more about me than this tiny box allows.

Intrigued?