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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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  • http://sarachoe.com sara choe

    Wednesdays are cooking lesson days at the Long house. Today, Jenny teaches her nieces the proper way to make an omelette.

    Raegan cracked the eggs, just like Jenny told her to — against the cutting board and not the bowl, with a swift twist of her wrist — which resulted in a single, long crack. No bits of shell to pick out of the bowl this time.

    “Well done!” said Jenny.

    Reece beat the eggs, wielding the whisk rather well. Jenny, surprised by the strength of her second grader coached to keep at it.

    “Beat them well, until the yolks and whites are fully incorporated, ” Jenny told her. “You’ll know they’re well beaten when you don’t notice any of the whites.”

    Dicey as it was, Jenny let Raegan practice her knife skills. It took awhile, but Raegan chopped the green onions, evenly.

    Jenny said, “Good job!”

    Reece was in charge of the cheese; she chose gouda, knowing that a high quality cheese is the key to a simple yet delicious omelette. She shredded the wedge well, not too finely so that it would melt too much nor too chunky so that it wouldn’t melt enough.

    Jenny cooked them on the pan, demonstrating the importance of a well oiled surface and heating the pan well before the egg even hit the pan.

    After a few minutes, Jenny plated the omelettes, showing them that good presentation enhances the dining experience.

    The students and teacher dug into their classwork.

    “Mmmm, this tastes so good!” said Raegan.
    “I’m a good chef,” said Reece, “thanks to a good teacher!”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Sara this is perfect. Excellent incorporation of “good” and “well,” and of course, like the skilled writer you are you used them correctly. Well done.

      And besides that, you give us this great scene. I would have liked to see a little more personality from the pupils, a little more conflict and emotion in the scene, but in such a quick passage that would have been impossible. The only answer is that you’ll have to write more :)

      You have a very clear, readable voice, Sara. I want to repeat what I said about writing a novel. I would love to read anything you write.

      • http://sarachoe.com sara choe

        Thanks, Joe!

        Well… with National Novel Writing Month just around the corner, I wonder – is it cheating if I use my first exercise to get a headstart?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Absolutely not. Go for it.

    • Mark Almand

      Really nice control/restraint, Sara. Very sparse.

      I think your voice might work especially well with a whiz-bang plot or some kind of skewed character study, in a kind of juxtaposition.

      • http://sarachoe.com sara choe

        Thanks, Mark! I appreciate the feedback. Lots of technical terms here; could you explain a bit more?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Yes, Mark, I think we’d all like to know what a whiz-bang plot is.

          • Mark Almand

            Ha ha, OK, what I mean by “whiz-bang” is a very action-filled plot with lots of, um, the equivalent of movie special effects (whatever we would call that in writing). But I only mean that as an example of what you could experiment with. Sara, my point was that your style is very matter-of-fact, direct, and physical. It has a “reporter’s” feel to it as a result, but you couple it with a good long-stretch rhythm (I just made up that term; I mean not the rhythm within the sentences so much as between the larger story components like when you alternate between narrative and dialog. You’re very good at this.). I mean all of this as a very high compliment. So, I believe that you might experiment with a plot that IS very intricate — or, with characters who are odd — and get a neat effect from the juxtaposition of simple narrative style against surprise and intricacy of plot and/or characters.

            You could say all of the above much more simply than I, which is exactly the point! :)

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            I love this, and I think Mark’s absolutely right. It’s almost November, Sarah. I’d love to help you with your novel. Why don’t you give me a call. You have my number right?

  • http://sarachoe.com/ sara

    Wednesdays are cooking lesson days at the Long house. Today, Jenny teaches her nieces the proper way to make an omelette.

    Raegan cracked the eggs, just like Jenny told her to — against the cutting board and not the bowl, with a swift twist of her wrist — which resulted in a single, long crack. No bits of shell to pick out of the bowl this time.

    “Well done!” said Jenny.

    Reece beat the eggs, wielding the whisk rather well. Jenny, surprised by the strength of her second grader coached to keep at it.

    “Beat them well, until the yolks and whites are fully incorporated, ” Jenny told her. “You’ll know they’re well beaten when you don’t notice any of the whites.”

    Dicey as it was, Jenny let Raegan practice her knife skills. It took awhile, but Raegan chopped the green onions, evenly.

    Jenny said, “Good job!”

    Reece was in charge of the cheese; she chose gouda, knowing that a high quality cheese is the key to a simple yet delicious omelette. She shredded the wedge well, not too finely so that it would melt too much nor too chunky so that it wouldn’t melt enough.

    Jenny cooked them on the pan, demonstrating the importance of a well oiled surface and heating the pan well before the egg even hit the pan.

    After a few minutes, Jenny plated the omelettes, showing them that good presentation enhances the dining experience.

    The students and teacher dug into their classwork.

    “Mmmm, this tastes so good!” said Raegan.
    “I’m a good chef,” said Reece, “thanks to a good teacher!”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Sara this is perfect. Excellent incorporation of “good” and “well,” and of course, like the skilled writer you are you used them correctly. Well done.

      And besides that, you give us this great scene. I would have liked to see a little more personality from the pupils, a little more conflict and emotion in the scene, but in such a quick passage that would have been impossible. The only answer is that you’ll have to write more :)

      You have a very clear, readable voice, Sara. I want to repeat what I said about writing a novel. I would love to read anything you write.

      • http://sarachoe.com/ sara

        Thanks, Joe!

        Well… with National Novel Writing Month just around the corner, I wonder – is it cheating if I use my first exercise to get a headstart?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Absolutely not. Go for it.

    • Mark Almand

      Really nice control/restraint, Sara. Very sparse.

      I think your voice might work especially well with a whiz-bang plot or some kind of skewed character study, in a kind of juxtaposition.

      • http://sarachoe.com sara choe

        Thanks, Mark! I appreciate the feedback. Lots of technical terms here; could you explain a bit more?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Yes, Mark, I think we’d all like to know what a whiz-bang plot is.

          • Mark Almand

            Ha ha, OK, what I mean by “whiz-bang” is a very action-filled plot with lots of, um, the equivalent of movie special effects (whatever we would call that in writing). But I only mean that as an example of what you could experiment with. Sara, my point was that your style is very matter-of-fact, direct, and physical. It has a “reporter’s” feel to it as a result, but you couple it with a good long-stretch rhythm (I just made up that term; I mean not the rhythm within the sentences so much as between the larger story components like when you alternate between narrative and dialog. You’re very good at this.). I mean all of this as a very high compliment. So, I believe that you might experiment with a plot that IS very intricate — or, with characters who are odd — and get a neat effect from the juxtaposition of simple narrative style against surprise and intricacy of plot and/or characters.

            You could say all of the above much more simply than I, which is exactly the point! :)

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            I love this, and I think Mark’s absolutely right. It’s almost November, Sarah. I’d love to help you with your novel. Why don’t you give me a call. You have my number right?

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    Well, this may be my biggest grammar pet peeve! Good job clearing it up.

    I slept well, but the morning coffee was good.

    Katie

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I love a good cup of coffee in the morning.

      • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

        The day usually goes well if you’ve got a good start. ;-)

  • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com Katie Axelson

    Well, this may be my biggest grammar pet peeve! Good job clearing it up.

    I slept well, but the morning coffee was good.

    Katie

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I love a good cup of coffee in the morning.

      • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com Katie Axelson

        The day usually goes well if you’ve got a good start. ;-)

  • Mark Almand

    I was deep down inside a sentence when a shape caught my peripheral vision. It was Alyssa in her fuzzy red kitty cat and doggy PJs. She was standing at the door. “Hi, Honey,” I said. Her hair looked beautiful like that, still crumpled and long and wispy and snarled from her pillow.

    “Hi,” she said.

    “How are you?” I asked.

    “Good.”

    I closed my eyes. “Sissa, you’re well,” I corrected gently.

    “Nope,” she said, looking around. “Reid drew in one of my books, and I didn’t get mad. Erin passed gas under the covers and I didn’t hit her. Then Mom lost my doctor’s excuse, and I’m fine with it. Really I am. I didn’t do anything back to any of them. I’m not bad. I’m good.”

    Then she turned and walked away, flicking an invisible strand of her hair from in front of her shoulder to behind it, just as any good 11 year-old girl should.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Wow. Did she really say that?

      This is great, though, Mark. I love how you start, “deep inside a sentence”; I think we can all relate to that, and it struck me that you didn’t say deep inside a paragraph or article or novel. It says something about your level of focus and craft that you’re deep inside a single sentence.

      I love Alyssa’s sass. “Nope,” she says. Ha!

      And I love how you wrap it up, the sass continues with the flicking of the hair. Then you tie it up with “good.” Wonderful.

      • Mark Almand

        This one is fiction. But, I can imagine that she would have!

  • Mark Almand

    I was deep down inside a sentence when a shape caught my peripheral vision. It was Alyssa in her fuzzy red kitty cat and doggy PJs. She was standing at the door. “Hi, Honey,” I said. Her hair looked beautiful like that, still crumpled and long and wispy and snarled from her pillow.

    “Hi,” she said.

    “How are you?” I asked.

    “Good.”

    I closed my eyes. “Sissa, you’re well,” I corrected gently.

    “Nope,” she said, looking around. “Reid drew in one of my books, and I didn’t get mad. Erin passed gas under the covers and I didn’t hit her. Then Mom lost my doctor’s excuse, and I’m fine with it. Really I am. I didn’t do anything back to any of them. I’m not bad. I’m good.”

    Then she turned and walked away, flicking an invisible strand of her hair from in front of her shoulder to behind it, just as any good 11 year-old girl should.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Wow. Did she really say that?

      This is great, though, Mark. I love how you start, “deep inside a sentence”; I think we can all relate to that, and it struck me that you didn’t say deep inside a paragraph or article or novel. It says something about your level of focus and craft that you’re deep inside a single sentence.

      I love Alyssa’s sass. “Nope,” she says. Ha!

      And I love how you wrap it up, the sass continues with the flicking of the hair. Then you tie it up with “good.” Wonderful.

      • Mark Almand

        This one is fiction. But, I can imagine that she would have!

  • http://www.provurbs.com/ Bo Lane

    Words were my enemy tonight. But I managed to squeak this out.

    ……

    “Hey kid,” he said. “You shined out there today.”

    He fastened the last button on Susan’s jacket and tucked her hair behind her ears. He looked her in the eyes and smiled and said, “You’re a good kid. And you’ll have a good future ahead of you as long as you stay focused like you did today. You impressed your old man, baby. That’s not an easy feat but you did well.”

    She looked down. She hadn’t heard words like those in a while.

    “Now run over to your mom,” he said. “She’s been waiting a while to talk to you.”

    Susan leaned up and kissed her father on the forehead and turned toward her mother.

    “Thanks dad,” she said. “I really miss you. I just wanted you to know that.”

    He smiled and nodded in the direction of Susan’s mother and said, “You better go talk to her, baby.”

    Susan sprinted off across the gravel parking lot toward her mother.

    “You are amazing, young lady,” her mother said. “And not only did you play well, you shined. The best one on the team.”

    “That’s the same thing dad said,” Susan said. “Maybe we can invite him to come out to celebrate with us? Please, mom. That’s all I want.”

    Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg. He shrugged but smiled loosely.

    “That’s fine, baby,” she said, “but you’re riding with us.”

    “Thank you mom,” she said as she gripped her arms tightly around her mother. “Thank you, really.”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      This is great, Bo. You capture so much of the characters here in such a short space, and you mixed joy with pain really well, especially in this small sentence, “Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg.” Nicely done.

      You want to watch out for head hopping, switching POV. You do it here, “She looked down. She hadn’t heard words like those in a while.” And almost but not quite here, “Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg. He shrugged but smiled loosely.”

      Overall, though, this is a really nice piece.

      • http://www.provurbs.com/ Bo Lane

        Thanks. I struggled with the ending. I wanted it to resolve, to come to a sort of conclusion, but then I remembered that it’s alright to end a story and still have questions unanswered. As long as the main objective is reached… or at least that’s how my tiny brain works.

        For the POV, I agree. This is an area that I have not spent much time in. I usually hop back and forth when I write, just to go back and correct it later… at least to the best of my ability. What do you recommend that can help with this?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Yeah. I think that’s really good. Most of the stories that really capture me end ambiguously. A lot of people hate that, but I like it as long as it’s done well.

          Re: POV, you might check out this article:

          http://writerunboxed.com/2011/06/16/head-hopping/

          We still haven’t written about it, but it’s on the to do list.

  • http://www.provurbs.com/ Bo Lane

    Words were my enemy tonight. But I managed to squeak this out.

    ……

    “Hey kid,” he said. “You shined out there today.”

    He fastened the last button on Susan’s jacket and tucked her hair behind her ears. He looked her in the eyes and smiled and said, “You’re a good kid. And you’ll have a good future ahead of you as long as you stay focused like you did today. You impressed your old man, baby. That’s not an easy feat but you did well.”

    She looked down. She hadn’t heard words like those in a while.

    “Now run over to your mom,” he said. “She’s been waiting a while to talk to you.”

    Susan leaned up and kissed her father on the forehead and turned toward her mother.

    “Thanks dad,” she said. “I really miss you. I just wanted you to know that.”

    He smiled and nodded in the direction of Susan’s mother and said, “You better go talk to her, baby.”

    Susan sprinted off across the gravel parking lot toward her mother.

    “You are amazing, young lady,” her mother said. “And not only did you play well, you shined. The best one on the team.”

    “That’s the same thing dad said,” Susan said. “Maybe we can invite him to come out to celebrate with us? Please, mom. That’s all I want.”

    Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg. He shrugged but smiled loosely.

    “That’s fine, baby,” she said, “but you’re riding with us.”

    “Thank you mom,” she said as she gripped her arms tightly around her mother. “Thank you, really.”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      This is great, Bo. You capture so much of the characters here in such a short space, and you mixed joy with pain really well, especially in this small sentence, “Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg.” Nicely done.

      You want to watch out for head hopping, switching POV. You do it here, “She looked down. She hadn’t heard words like those in a while.” And almost but not quite here, “Amanda, Susan’s mother, looked over at her fiancée, Greg. He shrugged but smiled loosely.”

      Overall, though, this is a really nice piece.

      • http://www.provurbs.com/ Bo Lane

        Thanks. I struggled with the ending. I wanted it to resolve, to come to a sort of conclusion, but then I remembered that it’s alright to end a story and still have questions unanswered. As long as the main objective is reached… or at least that’s how my tiny brain works.

        For the POV, I agree. This is an area that I have not spent much time in. I usually hop back and forth when I write, just to go back and correct it later… at least to the best of my ability. What do you recommend that can help with this?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Yeah. I think that’s really good. Most of the stories that really capture me end ambiguously. A lot of people hate that, but I like it as long as it’s done well.

          Re: POV, you might check out this article:

          http://writerunboxed.com/2011/06/16/head-hopping/

          We still haven’t written about it, but it’s on the to do list.

  • Pingback: I’m Doing Well | Provurbs

  • Alexios

    What are you? Good. How are you? Well. There is no negotiating this – from a strict grammatical point or view, “I am good” in response to a question of manner is wrong. The ill distinction is facetious. Should be careful before trying to teach.

    What’s next? “How did the Knicks play?” “Good.” I guess that means they are not ill.

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  • Ian Massey

    “How are you [feeling]?” as a greeting *absolutely* comes from the idea
    of health and wellness. Look at every primary greeting of every western
    language back to Attic Greek, and you’ll see that they ALL refer to
    wishing good health unto the recipient. Ergo, I would argue that the
    correct response to “How are you” is “well.” Moreover, other questions
    of greeting act in a similar function: “How are you doing” would need
    “well,” as would “How’s it going.” Both of these greetings refer to the
    ability of the recipient to perform tasks in life, or the way in which
    their life has been progressing. They are literally asking “Are you able to do things well” or “Has your life been progressing well,” respectively.To say that “how are you” takes “good”
    ignores the etymology. Even in reference to mental condition, I would argue this continues to be a matter of health. While I agree language evolves with society, in
    this case it has simply gotten colloquially lazy. “I trust you’re doing
    good?” No. But I am doing *well*, thank you.