We all know that the English language is finicky. Some things about it simply don’t make sense–especially when you compare it to the other languages of the world. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t master it (or at least get a little better every day). With that being said, I’m here to tackle one of the most confusing debacles in the book: when to use well vs good.
It all starts with a simple question. Someone asks, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” and you spiral into a complete vortex of grammar doom. Do you say good? Or is it well? You begin to wonder if there’s really any difference at all. To save you from your next grammar blunder, here are the simple rules for discerning when to use well vs good in conversation. Because speaking well is a good habit to have.
The General Consensus
The first things to keep in mind are the parts of speech. Good is an adjective, meaning it describes a noun. Well is an adverb, meaning it describes a verb. Sometimes, though–and this is where it can confuse people–well can also be used as an adjective when it comes to talking about health. Let’s look at some examples, shall we?
Using Well and Good in Sentences
You are a good runner.
You ran very well.
I don’t feel well.
As you can see, good describes the runner. In the second example, well is describing HOW the runner ran. A good rule of thumb is to remember that well answers the question how. Lastly, since the third example is referring to health, we used well.
Speaking About Senses & Using Well Vs Good
Another rule to remember pertains to when you are using senses. You need to discern whether or not the verbs look, feel, taste, and smell are being used actively or not. Hear is always active. If the verb is being used actively, then you use well because it’s answering that question of how and describing the active verb. On the contrary, if the verb is not being used actively, you’ll stick with good ole’ good.
I can hear well.
–Hear is always active.
You look good for someone who just got hit by a truck.
–Look is not referring to the physical process of seeing with your eyes.
I can smell well even though I just broke my nose.
–Well is describing how I smell.
You don’t smell good today. You smell like horse manure.
– We’re not describing how you actively sniff with your nose, we’re describing you and how bad you smell.
Describing Emotional Well-Being & Health
One last rule for you guys to remember. Are you still with me? Having fun? No and no? Great! This last rule focuses on when you are either talking about someone’s emotional well-being or their health. You always use well when speaking about health, and you used good when talking about their emotional well-being. Here are your last examples… Come on, it’s the home stretch!
So… How are you?
Ex. 1 – if you want to refer to your actual health.
I am well; I finally got over my cold!
Ex. 2 – if you want to talk about your overall well-being.
I’m good, thanks for asking!
Now you know when to use well vs good!
That wasn’t so hard, was it? Who else gets tripped up on this tricky grammar detail? Did you find this post helpful? Let me know in the comments!