Grammar-ease: Good versus well

Welcome back to another tips and tricks for grammar post.

So many grammar rules, so little time. Some grammar rules just don’t click for me, so when I find a tip or trick that helps me remember, I like to share it. And I hope that, like me, you’ll realize grammar isn’t anything to be scared of. Maybe you’ll even find grammar — shall I dare say it? — fun.

Anything is possible, right? Cartoon of moose with thought bubble. Good versus well as text inside bubble.

Good/well confuses many people, even though the word choice is about usage. To cut it to its basics, all we need to know is that good is an adjective and well is an adverb. There, that was simple, right? Okay, off with you then and happy writing. What? Not so fast, you say?

How about: we just plug in good when we need an adjective (to describe a noun or pronoun) and well when we need an adverb (to describe a verb). That’s easy, right? Still need help? How about some examples?

  • Bubba is a good ferret. (adjective describing subject ‘ferret’)

Break down the sentence: Bubba is a ferret. What kind of ferret? (adjective) ferret.

  • She trained Bubba well. (adverb describing the verb ‘trained’)

Break down the sentence: She trained Bubba. How (adverb) did she train him?

  • This is a good burger. (adjective describing subject ‘sandwich’)

Break down the sentence: This is a sandwich. What kind of burger? (adjective) sandwich.

  • I can’t taste the burger well because I have a cold. (adverb describing verb ‘taste’)

Break down the sentence: I can taste the burger. How (adverb) can I taste the burger?

[It’s less confusing to make it into a positive statement and go from there.]

If it’s still confusing, try substituting “healthy” or “in a good manner” and if either fits, then so will “well.”

Here are some more examples.

  • The coffee tasted well/good this morning.

The word supports the subject, ‘the coffee’s taste’, therefore, an adjective.

   Correct: The coffee tasted good this morning.

   (Maybe the coffee can taste ‘healthy’, but that isn’t what is meant.)

  • The batter is looking well/good.

The word supports the subject ‘batter’, therefore, an adjective.

   Correct: The batter is looking good.

   (Sure the batter can look ‘healthy’, but that isn’t what is meant.)

  • She skates well/good.

The word supports the verb ‘skates’, therefore, an adverb;“in a good manner” also works.

   Correct: She skates well.

  • She doesn’t feel very good/well.

The word supports the verb ‘feel’ –> an adverb; “healthy” also works.

   She doesn’t feel very well.

  • He did a good/well job.

The word supports the noun ‘job’ –> an adjective.

   He did a good job.

  • She did the job good/well.

The word supports the verb ‘did’ –> an adverb; “in a good manner” also works.

   She did the job well.

Did these examples help you out if you were confused by the usage of good/well? 

If you have grammar topics you’d like to see covered, please leave a comment about it.

Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011

4 thoughts on “Grammar-ease: Good versus well

  1. Hi Lisa,

    This is interesting. I’d never consciously thought of well as an adverb but it makes sense. However, it therefore sounds technically incorrect to respond to “how are you?” with “I am well, thank you”, as “well” is used as an adjective to describe myself even though the implied question may be “how are you feeling?”, to which the answer would be “I am feeling well”, where “well” is correctly used as an adverb.
    Or maybe “I am feeling good” and “I am well” are equally wrong and “I am good” and “I am feeling well” are both valid.
    What do you think?

    Thanks,

    Richard

    • Hi Richard,

      You mention an exception to the rule(s) and there’s always at least one, right? I should have included it in the post, as the thought niggled at me while I was writing.

      “Well” is okay as an adjective when talking about health.

      Thanks for the comment! And the working through of your thoughts.

      -Lisa

  2. OMG! Do I need this post? YES!
    The search for the correct words…not necessarily for grammar, but effect…(or affect…I need help with that also) is an ongoing battle for me.
    I love this blog. It has been so helpful. I have recommended it to my sisters at RWA…NJRW
    Notebook time
    Jaye

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