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When to Use "Good" vs. "Well"

Learn when to use "good" versus "well" from Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Stephanie Paterik in this Howcast grammar video.


One of the age old grammar debates is whether or not it's correct to say, " I am good," or "I am well" when someone asks you how you're doing. At Gotham's Writers Workshop, where I teach grammar, we teach that either answer is actually okay. And I'm going to explain to you why.

To understand the debate, it's important to know the difference between "Good" and "Well". "Good" functions as an adjective in a sentence, which means that it describes nouns. And "Well" functions as an adverb in a sentence; which means it describes verbs.

My favorite coffee cup has the phrase, "Super-Hero's Do Good, I'm Doing Well" which is kind of a snarky way to say that "Well" is preferable to "Good." Let me show you why in this instance it is. So, in this case, we have the word "Good" which is our adjective. "Do" is our verb, and "Super-hero's" is our subject.

An adjective can't describe a verb, so "Good" is not describing how the super-hero is doing. "Good" is describing a noun, and in this case it's sort of an invisible word. We might think of it as "Super-Hero's do good work" or "They do good deeds." "Good is describing the work of the super- hero's.

"I'm doing well." In this case, we have the word "Well" which is an adverb, which describes a verb. In this case, the verb in our sentence is "Doing," the subject of our sentence is "I". So, how am I doing? "I'm doing well."

This is where it gets tricky and where the debate comes into play. Say that you ask me how I am, and I just say simply, "I am well." You might say, "I am good." In this sentence, "Am" is our verb, "Well" is our adverb, and "I" am the subject.

Normally, you would think it would be correct for "Well" to describe the verb, but "Am" happens to be something we call a "linking verb," which means it's not doing much action, it's just linking the subject to the verb. So, in this case, it can actually be okay to say, "I am good" using the adjective form to describe "I". It's almost like, you just imagine that this is not here, and you could see "Good" is describing "I" the adjective is describing the noun.

So it gets incredibly complicated, and I think life is a little too short to worry too much about whether you need the adjective form or the adverb form. You could be sure that whenever you're saying "I am good," or "I am well" there's a grammarian out there who's willing to back you up.

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