Mighty Red Pen

December 10, 2007

Good vs well

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 8:20 pm

Who among us doesn’t answer “good” when someone asks “How are you?” even though our moms told us a million times the correct answer is “well”?

There’s certainly a case to be made for common usage on the good/well issue, but as this instance shows, when you’re interviewed by the media it’s probably a good time to brush up on the difference:

“If it works good,” David Neeleman, JetBlue’s founder and chairman, said, “we’ll roll it out to our whole fleet.”

He would have more correctly said, “If it works well.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language opines, “Good is properly used as an adjective with linking verbs such as be, seem, or appear: The future looks good. The soup tastes good. It should not be used as an adverb with other verbs: The car runs well (not good). Thus, The dress fits well and looks good.”

Similarly, the Columbia Guide to Standard American English offers,  “When used with the verb do, good is a noun and a direct object (We want to do good with our money), and well is an adverb (She did well on the exam).”

If you’re still not sure about the difference, try taking this quiz. You’ll be speaking good in no time.



  1. If someone asks you “how are you?” why is it OK to answer “well” but not OK to answer “badly” (rather than “bad”)? Both of them are adverbs.

    I suppose “poorly” would be another acceptable adverb. But then “well” and especially “poorly” seem to relate specifically to health.

    Incidentally, I always answer “how are you” with “not bad”; it’s an automatic response that has no relation to my wellbeing, frame of mind, state of health etc. Strange, huh.

    Comment by JD — December 11, 2007 @ 4:42 am | Reply

  2. I have a co-worker who always answers “Never better and yourself?” I’m not sure if it is grammatically correct but it makes me laugh every time!

    Comment by cookiezim — December 12, 2007 @ 6:47 am | Reply

  3. Neeleman knows that talkin’ dumb is today’s version of the firm handshake. It legitimizes a person with “real folk” — non-fancy people who fly Jet Blue, watch network TV, and elect presidents.

    Comment by Krodamai — December 12, 2007 @ 4:46 pm | Reply

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