Good vs well

The traditional distinction between good and well is that good is an adjective describing something as pleasing or of acceptable quality and well is an adverb meaning the action is done in a pleasing or acceptable way. However, both good and well work as adverbs in informal speech and writing. A caveat to this is that well can also be an adjective and means that something is healthy.

If someone asks, “How are you?” It is grammatically acceptable to answer, “I’m good.” Answering, “I’m well,” is also acceptable, but carries the connotation of not being sick.

You might want to read about the interesting phrase “Fair To Middling” here.


After receiving several badges and medals for expert marksmanship and good conduct, he officially retired from the military on disability in December 2012. [New York Times]

So for a well-loved chief executive, a manager, and so many good players to leave the club in the space of a few months constituted a meltdown. [Daily Mail]

If I’m good enough to play in this league, I want to do it. If I’m not, I’m going to play somewhere else. [NJ]

“I’m well enough to work two days a week. I really should not be here, but I’m sitting here as proof this treatment works.” [Sun Sentinel]

Meredith had six weeks off after being hospitalised, before returning to umpire in round 21 and has performed so well he has won the coveted position. [AFL]

I’m well aware of what they did to provide for my family and what my mum still does, and this is my chance to add to the story. [New Zealand Herald]

14 thoughts on “Good vs well”

  1. Your explanation of “good” or “well”,is incomplete. How does he do? Many say: I’m doing good. Is this correct? How do I feel? God or well?

  2. When one is asked “How are you?,” any one-word response had better be an adjective, not an adverb. If you’re hungry, and someone asks, “How are you?,” would you say, “hungrily”?

    “Well” is both an adverb meaning “in a good manner or fashion”, and an adjective meaning “healthy”. If you say, “live well” or “play well”, you’re using the adverb; if you say “be well” or “get well”, you’re using the adjective. “Good” is only an adjective, and cannot be used as an adverb.

    In the past, “well” was used an an adjective in a sense much closer to how we use “good” today. This explains phrases such as “All’s well that ends well”, or “Five o’clock and all is well.”

    • Thank you for your comments. We have added the adjective definition to the article, but left your great examples here for others to read.

  3. In terms of a one word answer to the question “how are you” both are grammatically correct but to me have different meanings. “I’m good” is the same as “I am behaving” whilst “I’m well” is similar to “I’m healthy”. Similarly if I say “He smells good” that is different to “He smells well”. The first implies he smells nice, the second that he has a good sense of smell.

  4. If someone asks, “How are you?” It is grammatically acceptable to answer, “I’m good.”

    This sentence has numerous issues, please consider revising.

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