When someone asks you, “How are you?” how should you respond? Should you say, “I’m good,” or, “I’m well?” Which is correct grammatically: good or well.
Since “how are you?” became a standard greeting, the use of good vs. well has been hotly disputed. Let’s straighten this confusion out.
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.
You did well.
When Someone Asks How You Are, It’s Okay To Say “Good”
First and foremost, let me give you permission to respond to “how are you” with “good.” Go ahead. Go nuts.
Saying “good” is actually grammatically correct if you’re not directly referring to your health.
Responding with “well” means that you aren’t sick. “Good,” on the other hand, means you’re in good 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.
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!”).
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.
But you can’t do good at math. You do well at math.
Good vs. Well Are Not Interchangeable
While it’s okay to use good when someone asks how you are, that doesn’t mean good and well are interchangeable.
- Good is an adjective used to describe nouns (like your soccer skills or your emotional state)
- Well is both an adverb used to describe verbs (like how your soccer game went) and an adjective used to describe nouns (especially your health)
Now, may you never confuse the two again!
Need more grammar help? Once you master good vs. well in the practice below, check out my favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates “good” reports to help me write “well”: ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 25 percent off: WritePractice25
How about you? Which do you respond with when someone asks how you are, good or well? Let me know in the comments.
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.
Um… I meant well.
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.