Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Classic Battle of Good Versus Well

Here, again, you find a pet peeve that has plagued grammar geeks for decades. If you ask someone, “How are you?” the grammatical response remains, “I am well.” If you don't know why, read on dear reader.

“Good” is an adjective. The word describes something else. “Well” is an adverb, describing or clarifying a verb rather than an object.

That can be difficult to determine. If you are “good at” doing something then you do it “well”. The words are so close in meaning (in this context) that sentence structure rules your word choice.

And why, you ask, does that matter? Well bless your heart and thanks for asking. It matters because knowing the difference will allow you to write clearly. If you mean that someone is a good person you can say, “Beth is good.” If you want to say that she is feeling good you can say, “Beth is well.”

In the first instance, you are describing Beth. It's what kind of Beth she is. The second sentence describes Beth's state of being. She is, and that “is” is just fine, thank you. You can move on to more descriptive sentences like, “Beth is a good dancer,” and, “Beth dances well.”

Tomorrow I'll write about what this all means in a broader sense. Knowing when to use an adjective rather than an adverb helps you to write well. A good reader can spot a mistake a mile away.


RT Cunningham


Although I was as A+ English student throughout my years in school (elementary, middle/junior high, high school and even college), I don't remember differences between verbs, adverbs, and adjectives all that well. After all, my last English course was over 25 years ago. Thanks for the reminder.



You are quite welcome, and thanks for your comment. I try to mix in some more basic terms and concepts because I need the refresher as much as anyone!