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What is the Difference Between Good and Well?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Like many niggling details in grammar, the difference between "good" and "well" is both simple and complex. Basically, "good" is an adjective, while "well" is an adverb, but the usage of these words gets much more complicated than this, thanks to a little detail known as linking verbs. If you've been tormented for saying “I'm good,” you may be pleased to know that this usage is actually correct, and that the difference between these terms is often oversimplified by pedantic individuals.

"Good," like other adjectives, is used to modify a noun, providing more information about it. For example, one could say "Bronwyn's dog is good" or "It's a good house, very solidly built." "Well," acting as an adverb, is used to modify verbs, like this: "he sings well," or "the cat hunts well." When thinking about whether to use "good" or "well" in a sentence, a speaker should think about whether he is describing an action, like playing the piano or hitting a baseball, or an object, like a garden or an anvil.

There is an exception to this simple rule of thumb, however. "Good" can be used in sentences like "I'm good" or "the pizza looks good," because the verbs involved in these sentences are linking verbs, connecting a subject with information about it. A number of words can be used as linking verbs, including "seems," "appears," "looks," "grows," "tastes," "becomes," and the various conjugations of "to be," including "am," "is," "are," "was," and so forth. Some of these words can also be used as action verbs, but when used as linking verbs, they do not imply action, they simply connect subjects and information.

If you're starting to feel confused about how to use "good" and "well" when linking verbs are involved, there is fortunately a very easy way to tell when a verb is being used as a linking verb, and that is to replace it with "am," "is," or "are," as appropriate. If the sentence turns into gobbledygook, the verb is being used as an action verb, in which case "well" is appropriate, but if the sentence still makes sense, the speaker should use "good."

For example, "the pasta looks good" sounds perfectly normal when you replace "looks" with "is" to make "the pasta is good," so "good" is an entirely appropriate word to use. In the sentence "the bunny smelled the grass but decided not to eat any," however, when "smelled" is replaced with "is," the sentence doesn't make sense, so "smelled" is not being used as a linking verb in this case, so someone would say that the bunny smelled the grass "well," not "good."

Many people tend to over-correct when struggling with the usage of "good" and "well," but this isn't necessary if they can remember that "good" goes with nouns and "well" goes with verbs, unless the verbs are being used in a linking capacity.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon349124 — On Sep 23, 2013

@lighth0se33: If you actually read the article carefully, it says to replace the verb with a tense of "am." The sentence is "I'm doing well." If you replace doing with am, the sentence actually reads "I'm am good" - or "I am am good," which in turn, makes your sentence incorrect. "I'm doing well" is the proper way to say it and your mom is still correct. That is probably why she is a teacher.

By giddion — On Feb 23, 2013

Many people use “good” to describe how they are when asked the question in person, but those same people might be inclined to write “well” in the same context. I think that the common way of speaking influences how we talk to each other, while grammatical rules influence our writing.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 23, 2013

@lighth0se33 – You may be right, but still, “I'm doing good,” just doesn't sound correct to me. I only use the word “good” to describe things that are wonderful. I use “well” to describe the way that something is going or how someone is doing.

There may be more than one way of looking at this. I feel like this is just something that everyone will always have their own opinion about.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 22, 2013

My mother is a teacher, and she has always placed importance on using good and well correctly. However, we have a disagreement about something that I believe this article has settled.

She has always said that it is proper to say, “I'm doing well,” instead of, “I'm doing good.” She says that since doing is a verb, it should be followed by the adverb well.

I say that since “doing” could be replaced by “am” to state that “I am good,” then it is correct to use whichever one I want to use in this sentence. The article seems to agree with me!

By Kristee — On Feb 21, 2013

It's a relief to learn that the use of good and well isn't as complicated as I once thought. I can definitely remember to substitute am or is for the verb in order to determine whether to use good or well. It's also nice to learn that I haven't been incorrect every time I've said, “I'm good.”

By anon293496 — On Sep 26, 2012

I think the writer is overlooking the fact that "well" also describes a state of health (i.e. the opposite of "ill"). That is the reason why it is correct to say "I'm well" rather than "I'm good" in answer to the question "How are you?". To say, "I'm good" is often perceived as being a very self-centered opinion of one's own status. "I'm well" will avoid that pitfall. "I'm fine" gets around the problem.

By anon158011 — On Mar 05, 2011

what is the proper way to use "good" and "well" after the verb "feel."

By anon137027 — On Dec 25, 2010

Also, with the "I'm good", you are describing how you are -- not yourself.

By anon137022 — On Dec 25, 2010

I'm pretty sure the first example of how to use "good" is wrong. "Good" is describing how the dog is, not the dog itself.

By anon73462 — On Mar 27, 2010

PvP in the context you used it is a verb. It is used to describe the action of engaging in player versus player. Thus you would say "you PvP well".

By anon64003 — On Feb 04, 2010

so what if someone was to say "you PVP good?" PvP meaning Player vs Player in video games.

By anon50825 — On Nov 01, 2009

"I slept well."

In the sentence above, "slept" is the action being described.

By PapaD — On Jun 27, 2009

What is the correct response when someone asks you how you slept? Is it I slept well or I slept good?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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