The words good and well may be two of the most commonly used words in the English language, but they are also the most confused words. The confusion comes from the similarity in their meanings and the general mix-up between adjectives and adverbs. Let’s look into these:
We all know that adjectives and adverbs are both modifying words – adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify verbs.
Good is an adjective, which means it modifies a noun. For example: This is a good book. (The adjective good is modifying the noun book).
Well is an adverb. Therefore, it modifies a verb. For example: He writes well. (The adverb well is modifying the verb writes).
This is the general rule and there is hardly any confusion in this. So, where does the confusion arise? Let’s take the similarity in the meanings first.
“He writes well” means “he is good at writing”. It’s the structure of the sentence that differentiates good from well.
Now the confusion between adjectives and adverbs: The reason for the confusion here is that well can be used both as an adverb and as a predicate adjective. In the previous example (He writes well) well is an adverb. Now take the question “How are you?” This can be answered as “I am well”, well here being a predicate adjective (modifying I and am being a linking verb), not an adverb. Hence, the confusion – between a predicate adjective and an adjective. These are taken to be the same, so very often you will hear “I am good” in reply to “How are you?” But this is incorrect, because good is an adjective and cannot be used as an adverb or as a predicate adjective.
Many people say that it is grammatically correct to say “I am good” in reply to “How are you?” Yes, “I am good” is grammatically correct, but not in reply to “How are you?” When you reply to the question, you are referring to your health, how you are feeling; you cannot feel good, you feel well. The time when “I am good” is grammatically correct is when the question is a general one and not specifically relating to your health. In other words, “I am good” is correct when you mean to say that you are decent, virtuous, or skilful.
Confused? Many people do get confused, that’s why the errors in the use of the words. But if you understand the meanings and uses of these two words, you can never go wrong.
Any other thoughts on the use of good and well?