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Good vs. Well—How Should I Use Them?

Updated on
December 23, 2020
Grammar

A common English error is to misuse the words good and well. The rule of thumb is that good is an adjective and well is an adverb. Good modifies a noun; something can be or seem good. Well modifies a verb; an action can be done well. However, when you’re talking about health, well can be used as an adjective.

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What you need to remember

All you need to remember when you are pondering whether good or well is best for your sentence is that good modifies a person, place, or thing, whereas well modifies an action. If you’re having a good day, then your day is going well.

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Examples

Did you do good on your exams?

Did you do well on your exams?

I can’t believe it! I did good on the test.

I can’t believe it! I did well on the test.

Here, we have a clear action verb: to do. Do should be modified with well, not good.

This is well lasagna!

This is good lasagna!

Lasagna is a noun—a thing—that should be modified with good. Nonaction verbs, like to be, to look, to seem, and to feel can also take good, the adjectival form.

Today, at last, life is good .

Exceptions to the well/good rule

Health and wellbeing

When we refer to a person’s health or wellbeing, well is customarily used as an adjective.

She asked about David’s illness, and I told her he is good now.

She asked about David’s illness, and I told her he is well now.

When you tell someone “Be good!” you are talking about the behavior of that person. However, to say, “Be well!” is to express a wish for their good health.

Linking verbs

Linking verbs can be used with good, an adjective, rather than well, an adverb, because they describe a state rather than an action. Common linking verbs are sense verbs such as feel, seem, look, appear, smell, taste, and sound.

That slice of chocolate cake looks so well.

That slice of chocolate cake looks so good.

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