How Are You? “Good” vs. “Well”

Quick visualization exercise: think back to a time when you did something fantastic. Maybe you won a sixth-grade spelling bee; maybe you were part of a national-championship rugby team; maybe you were part of a group that set the world record for largest group “Thriller” dance.

Whatever your achievement was, I’m sure someone told you that you were fantastic. They showered you with all kinds of praise telling you that you did good.

Right?

Wrong.

Girls Rugby by Andrew Vargas
You did well.

Since “how are you” became a standard greeting, the use of good versus well has been hotly disputed. So let’s straighten this confusion out.

First and foremost, let me give you permission to respond to “how are you” with “good.” Go ahead. Go nuts. It’s actually grammatically correct to do so if you’re not directly referring to your health.

Responding with “well” to that question means that you aren’t sick. “Good” means you’re in a general state of cheer and life is full of puppies and rainbows.

When “Good” Is Not Good

However, using “good” in conjunction with an action verb is wrong. Always.

You did not write good, play good, or dance good. You did all those things well. You can be good. You can do good, but only in the sense that you are doing charitable acts. You can’t do good at math. You do well at math.

Well is an adverb. You use it to describe actions. Good, on the other hand, is an adjective. You use “good” when describing nouns (“good puppy!”).

PRACTICE

Write a scene between little Suzy and her mother right after Suzy did something fantastic (won the spelling bee, dominated at the national rugby tournament, or did a great zombie in the “Thriller” flash mob, perhaps?).

Particularly focus on the dialogue between Suzy and her mother about how good Suzy’s performance was, how well she spelled/tackled/”thrilled.” Make sure you use “good” and “well” correctly.

Write for fifteen minutes. Post your practice in the comments.

Do good…

Um…I meant well.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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