Good vs. well?

Use the adjective “good” to describe nouns and the adverb “well” to describe verbs. But if you’re discussing “good health,” use the adjective “well.”

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What is the difference between good and well?

Did you know that statements like “I’m doing good” are grammatically incorrect? If not, you’re not alone. Even the most seasoned writers make this common mistake due to ever-changing dialects.

In general, we use the word “good” as an adjective to describe nouns, and “well” as an adverb to modify verbs, adverbs, phrases, etc. Sure, we can use “well” as an adjective to describe health, suitability, or skill, but we primarily use the adverb to explain “how” something occurs instead of how it “is.” 

Adverbs vs. adjectives

As mentioned above, adverbs like “well” are words that modify other adverbs, verbs, and phrases, and they often come in the form of “what,” “when,” “where,” or “how.” 

Types of adverbs:

  • “Standard” adverb: The addition of -ly to an adjective (e.g., quickly, humorously). 
  • Interrogative adverb: An adverb that begins a question (ex: “When did it start?” or “Where did you go?”).
  • Relative adverb: Adverbs that introduce a dependent clause (ex: “This is where I sleep”).  
  • Sentence adverb: An adverb that modifies a sentence by interjecting a narrator’s opinion (“I received the invitation but, sadly, I cannot attend”). 

We use the adverb “well” to describe “how” something occurs (action verbs) when it is “good.” For example: 

  • “He can speak well.” 
  • “Our writers Tweet well.”

In contrast, we use “good” as an adjective to describe something that is better than average (or potentially so). For example, a student that “writes well” is a “good writer.” Likewise, someone that “speaks English well” also “speaks good English.” 

Writers often stumble with “good” because of linking verbs vs. action verbs. Linking verbs (i.e., verbs of the senses) pair-up with predicate adjectives (or subject complements) to describe nouns, whereas action verbs combine with adverbs to describe the verb. For example, 

  • I feel good.” (I = good)
  • “The air smells good.” (air = good)
  • “The song sounds good.” (song = good)
  • You look good.” (you = good)
  • He seemed good.” (he = good) 

When accompanied by an action verb, “good” is no longer an adjective–– it’s an adverb. The easiest way to identify this change is when “good” describes the verb instead of the noun. For example, 

  • “I’m doing good.” (doing= good)
  • “He sings good.” (sings = good)
  • “They played good.” (played = good)

As noted by Garner’s Modern English Usage, using the adverb form of “good” is very uncommon for English and “widely shunned,” but it does occur within informal dialects (Garner 435). 

Do’s and don’ts for well vs. good

  • Do use “good” to describe anything better than standard, whether it’s virtue, emotions, or skill. 
  • Do use “well” to describe something as skilled, proper, or healthy. 
  • Do use “good” with linking verbs such as smell, look, sound, etc. 
  • Don’t use “good” with action verbs. 
  • Do use “well” with linking verbs (adjective) and action verbs (adverb). 

What does good and well mean?

The words good and well are common in English and have several similar meanings. For the sake of simplicity, let’s consult trusted sources like The New Oxford American English Dictionary to compare their definitions (“Good” 747, “Well” 1961).

Defining good vs. well as an adjective

The word good is an adjective that describes nouns in the following ways: 

1. To be desired, approved of, pleasing, welcomed, or expressing approval. For example,

  • “A job promotion is good.”
  • “It’s good to hear from you.”
  • “You did a good job.”
  • “You’re in good shape.”

2. Possessing required or appropriate qualities or principles of a role, purpose, or occasion, or; proper grammar. For example, 

  • “He has a good job.”
  • “Is this a good time to talk?”
  • “She is a good daughter.”
  • “I speak good English.”

3. Displaying moral virtue or kindness; an adherence to rules or customs; deserving of respect, or; belonging to a high social class. For example, 

  • “We have several good people.” 
  • “You are too good for me.”
  • “She is a good student.”
  • “Is there a good reason?”
  • “They came from a good family.” 

4. Pleasurable, satisfying, or enjoyable, or; attractive or stylish. For example,

  • “You look good today.” 
  • “We had a good time last night.”
  • “The food tastes good.”
  • “Wear your good shoes to dinner.” 
  • “I’m good on seconds, but thank you.”

5. Thorough, clear; a large quantity; at least as much as a stated amount, or; an emphasis of another adjective (in the sentence). For example, 

  • “They took a good beating.”  
  • “I waited for a good 30 minutes.”
  • “The house is a good way from here.”

In contrast, we use the adjective well to describe something as:

1. In “good health,” without illness, or “recovered from illness,” or; in a place of satisfaction or contentment. For example, 

  • “Do you feel well today?”
  • “She didn’t feel well at work today.”
  • “Grandpa is feeling well, all things considered.” 
  • “I hope all is well at home.”

2. “Advisable” or “sensible.” For example, 

  • “That’s all well and good, but I must disagree.” 
  • “It would be well to know the dress code.”

Compare adjective synonyms for well vs. good

Good” as an adjective:

Able, acceptable, adequate, agreeable, capable, competent, correct, decent, delightful, desirable, fit, goodly, gratifying, healthy, just, logical, nice, pleasant, pretty, proper, qualified, respectable, right, satisfactory, solid, suitable, tolerable, trained, valid, worthy.

Well” as an adjective:

Able-bodied, bouncing, fit, hale, healthy, hearty, robust, sound, well-conditioned, whole, wholesome.

Similarities: Both adjectives can describe something as healthy, fit, trained, or physically capable. 

Differences: The adjective meaning of well does not extend past the notion of physical health. 

Good vs. well as an adverb

The adverb “good” is the informal version of “well,” and rarely occurs within edited text. Instead, English speakers use the adverb well to describe verbs in the following ways: 

1. In a pleasing, appropriate, composed, or praiseworthy fashion, or; in a manner that provided a fortunate outcome, such as an advantage, prosperity, or comfort.

  • “The students performed well today.” 
  • “You did well to inform me.”
  • “The fundraising event went well.”
  • “We should treat each other well.” 
  • “Even if she marries well, she will insist on a prenuptial agreement.” 
  • “They live very well in the mountains.”

2. Thoroughly or clearly; to a great extent; in an intimate manner, or; an informal version of “very” (chiefly British). 

  • “The children play well together.”
  • “I gather research well in advance.”
  • “We know each other well.”
  • “We darn well hope so.” (British) 

3. “In all likelihood,” or in a manner that is with good reason or without difficulty. 

  • “This event may well be the last gathering of the year.”
  • “Money is not an issue when you are well off.” 

Compare adverb synonyms for well vs. good

Good” as an adverb:

Acceptably, adequately, alright, decently, fine, nicely, okay, respectably, satisfactorily, serviceably, sufficiently, tolerably, well. 

Well” as an adverb:

Adeptly, aptly, competently, considerately, courteously, easily, efficiently, expertly, generously, graciously, gratifyingly, happily, kindheartedly, kindly, neatly, nicely, pleasantly, proficiently, reasonably, satisfyingly, skillfully, sweetly, thoughtfully.

Similarities: Both adjectives can describe something as “good enough.”

Differences: The adjective “good” doesn’t apply to as many synonyms as “well” because it is nonstandard and, typically, incorrect to use as an adverb. 

Good vs. well as a noun

As a mass noun, the word good is something ‘moral,’ ‘righteous,’ ‘beneficial,’ or ‘advantageous.’ For example, 

  • “There is good in the world.” 
  • “It’s for your own good.” 
  • “For the good of the people.”

We can also use plural goods to mean ‘merchandise’ or personal property (except money, stocks, equity, etc.). For example, 

  • Where are the goods?
  • “The boat spilled millions worth of commercial goods.” 

Luckily for us, the noun definition of well is entirely separate from “good:” 

1. An underground shaft that produces oil, gas, or water, or; a water spring (archaic). For example, 

  • “Our home uses well water.” 
  • “Go drink from the well.”

2. An open or closed compartment within a building, ship, or airplane. For example, 

  • “My phone slipped into the elevator well.” 

Defining good vs. well as an exclamation

We can use good and well for similar interjections or exclamations, but “well” covers a broader range of emotions than “good.” For instance, the adjective good exists in phrases like “Good God!” or “Good heavens!” to express surprise or outrage. 

The adverb well also appears in expressions to imply surprise or anger, except it can also convey emotions like resignation, relief, consideration, or indifference. 

Examples:

  • Well, fine!” (anger, resignation)
  • Well, then!” (surprise)
  • Well” (consideration)
  • Well, alright then” (reluctance)
  • Well?” (impatience) 

FAQ for how to use good vs. well in a sentence?

Can I write “real good”?

The phrase “real good” is found in standard English when “good” is a noun, not an adverb (Garner 435). 

Examples:

  • “Her job does a lot of real good for the world.” (noun, standard)
  • “We shot the ball real good.” (adverb, informal)

Is it “I feel good” or “I feel well?

We can use the adjectives good and well to describe a physical or emotional state, but the two terms often carry different meanings. When describing a person, “well” tends to describe health or suitability, while “good” emphasizes emotion, virtue, or skill. 

Examples:

  • “I’m feeling good about this.” (emotion)
  • He is good.”  (skill)
  • “I feel well.” (health)
  • You chose well.” (suitability)

Do we use a hyphen for “well-being”?

Well-being” is a noun that means ‘a good, overall state of being.’ For this particular term, we always hyphenate “well-being” instead of keeping it closed or open.

Examples: 

  • “Meditation is good for your well-being.”
  • “How is your emotional well-being?” 

How to use well and good for adjectival compounds?

Have you noticed native speakers use phrases like “well-known” instead of “good-known,” or “good-looking” instead of “well-looking”? That’s because English grammar has specific rules for compound words that behave like adjectives (aka, “compound adjectives” or “phrasal adjectives”). 

To create a compound adjective from “good” or “well,” the terms must correspond in the following manner: 

  • Adjective/adverb + past/present participle 
  • Adjective + adjective
  • Noun + past/present participle
  • Noun + noun/adverb/adjective

While this appears simple enough, “good” pairs with present participles to create compound nouns–– not adjectives. To use “good” as a compound adjective, try pairing it with another adjective.

Examples: 

  • Good-hearted 
  • Good-natured 
  • Good-sized 
  • Good-tempered 

Meanwhile, the adverb “well” pairs with past participles to create compound adjectives.

Examples: 

  • Well-thought 
  • Well-fed 
  • Well-adjusted
  • Well-bred

Rules for hyphenating compound adjectives:

1. Compound adjectives only use a hyphen whenever they precede a noun: 

  • “We met a well-behaved student.” 
  • “I read several well-written articles in the New York Times.”

2. Do not hyphenate compound adjectives that follow verbs or nouns:

  • “My dog is well behaved.” 
  • “The essays are well written.”

3. Do not hyphenate compound adjectives that follow an adverb:

  • “The dog was surprisingly well trained.” 
  • “She is very well off.” 

Additional reading for good vs. well

If you enjoyed reading about well vs. good, check out our other posts on commonly confused words, such as: 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand good vs. well by choosing the correct responses below: 

  1. True or false: “Good” (adverb) is the informal version of “well” (adverb). 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. We generally use “good” as an __________ and “well” as an __________.
    a. Adverb, adverb
    b. Adjective, adverb
    c. Adjective, adjective
    d. Adverb, adjective
  3. Which of the following uses “good” as an adjective?
    a. “Have a good day.”
    b. “She has a good sense of smell.”
    c. “I feel good.”
    d. All of the above.
  4. “Well-being” is a __________.
    a. Adverb
    b. Compound adjective
    c. Noun 
    d. Compound adverb
  5. Which of the following sentences are grammatically incorrect?
    a. “He’s doing well.” 
    b. “He’s doing good.” 
    c. “He’s feeling well.”
    d. “He feels good.” 

Answers

  1. A
  2. B
  3. D
  4. C
  5. B

Sources

  1. Garner, B. “Good, well.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 435. 
  2. Good, well.” The Associated Press Stylebook, AP Stylebook, 2020. 
  3. “Good.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 747. 
  4. Subject complements.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020. 
  5. Well.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  6. Well.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. “Well.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 1961. 
  8. What is an adverb?The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.