Good vs. Well: The Debate Settled
Has this happened to you?
Someone asks, “How are you?”
Unless you truly know this someone and want to delve into your deepest angst, you reply, “I’m good. And you?”
This someone clears their throat, sticks their nose high in the air, and says, “I’m well.”
You know what I’m talking about it. Too much emphasis is put on “well.” And it’s said as if a teacher were lecturing a straight-A student.
If correcting this someone is not in my best interest, then I bite my tongue and let this someone revel in this false superiority. If I have nothing to lose, I tell this someone what I’m about to tell you.
It’s “I’m good,” not “I’m well.”
We’ve been taught by social pressure that it’s more proper in the English language to use “well” than “good.”
However, saying “well” in this case is improper English. Let me explain.
Good is an adjective, meaning that it modifies nouns.
This is a good story.
You speak good English.
What a good idea!
Good can also be used with state of being verbs, such as to be, to appear, and to seem. Here, the adjective still modifies the noun, not the verb.
This story is good.
His English is good.
Her ideas are good.
So, saying “I’m good” or “I am good” is correct because “am” is a to be verb. “Good” modifies “I.” I bolded these sentences in case you’re skimming this blog post to find the answer.
Well is an adverb, not an adjective. That means well modifies verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.
The protagonist swam well in the story.
He speaks English well.
Her idea solved our problem well.
Well can also be used as an adjective, meaning “in good health.”
She looks well.
He doesn’t feel well.
You only say “I’m well” when referring to your good health. If you want to convey that you’re happy or content, you say, “I’m good.”
Chances are, those annoying “well” correctors were not implying that they were in tip-top shape.
Are you wondering what this has to do with writing?
Writers are assumed to be experts in any and every subject because they can write about it. Whether or not that’s true, it’s the misconception that we writers often make true by trying to be the expert.
Because we are these writing experts, it is implied that we are also genius grammarians. This, of course, isn’t true. I’ve met many writers who couldn’t tell you the difference between adjectives and adverbs but can still apply both flawlessly in their writing.
The situation of “I’m good” vs. “I’m well” probably happens more to us than most professions. It’s like correcting a mathematician on the rules of the multiplication sign (unless, of course, you are the writing expert on math). These challengers cannot resist lecturing a genius grammarian on a simple grammatical principle.
Except that it’s not so simple. And they’re wrong.
So the next time someone asks you how you are, look this person straight in the eye and say, “I’m good.” And be ready to say why.
Has this also happened to you? Share your good vs. well story below.
Lately I noticed when I ask my grand kids how was their day at school, or how are they, I hear them all reply. “I’m good,” and nothing more. I have to almost interrogate them to open up. Me or sign of the present times. I wonder?
Regards and goodwill blogging.
[…] But they’re wrong. I settle the good vs. well debate here. […]