Good versus Well

Much like the previous post, in which we discussed the differences between the usage of I and Me, this post, too, discusses something that people find confusing: the use of good versus well. I’ve fallen prey to it on a few occasions (in the past) and so have most of my friends.

What’s the difference?

The thing is, our mental ears have always known (or is it registered?) the difference. So, none of us will ever, EVER say, “You did a well job”, while all we wish to do is praise the other person for their efforts. However, things get a little tricky for some of us who might happen to say, “Hey, you look good, buddy!” I’ve often used that in the past, and some of those who I know still use it.

Good is an adjective; it is a property of the subject of the sentence; it describes the subject. When I say, “You look good, buddy”, I mean that the “buddy”, or the subject of the sentence, has good eyes or, perhaps, vision because the word good describes buddy’s look. The sentence really means I am telling my buddy that they are actively using their eyes well. And, that isn’t what I intend to say. All I wish is to remark is that my buddy is looking hale and hearty. And, I must say what I intend to.

Well, as you rightly guessed, is an adverb; it describes the verb that relates to the subject of the sentence. So, instead of “You look good, buddy”, I should say, “You look you are doing well, buddy.” Yes, I might sound odd. But, I would choose to sound one rather than end up being one.

Are there any rules?

Yes. A rather simple one to remember: if you are referring to your or other’s health, use well. For example, “I heard he is doing/recovering well after the surgery.” Another advice: keep listening to your mental ear.

But, wait! There’s a catch!

First answer this: is it OK to say, “I’m good?” Good, based on what we just discussed, is an adjective. And, because it describes something, it should be incorrect to say…

WAIT, right there, for here lies the catch. I’d like you to read about linking verbs, which I covered in my previous post. The linking verb, “am” in the sentence, “I’m good”, connects the subject to the property of being good. So, it is OK to say, “I’m good.” However, you still can’t use good as an adverb. So, never say, “you did good”. Instead, say, “you did well.”

Happy writing.

About Suyog Ketkar

He is a certified technical communicator. He believes that writing continues to be an easy-to-do-but-difficult-to-master job. In his work time, he proudly dons the “enabler” cape. In his non-work time, he dons many hats including one of a super-busy father.
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