The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Good versus Well

This is a word usage post that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but have hesitated doing so because I felt like a hypocrite. I am very aware that I constantly misuse these words and swap them around, mostly out of sheer laziness. However, in my defense, I attempt to be correct when I’m writing. When I’m talking, laziness prevails.

So what is the difference between these words, you ask?

Good: an adjective or a noun. It means to be proper, right, of high quality, morally excellent, full of worth.

Well: an adjective or adverb. It can also mean right, full of worth, etc; or healthy, thorough, or with positive intentions.

Let’s look at some examples. You meet a friend on the street, and he says: “Hey, Joe, how are you?” You reply with “I’m good.”

To be completely correct, you should say “I’m well.” What you are describing is your state of being, and well is an adverb that modifies the verb of the sentence (which is “am,” the first person form of our “to be” verb). Good is usually an adjective, and in this case would be modifying you as a person, not what you are doing.

“I’m good” in this case actually means that you are proper and right (as opposed to immoral or wrong). Of course, if that’s your intent – to communicate how morally superior you are at that moment – then saying you’re good would be fine.

For another example I’ll use Glinda the Good Witch. (Side note: I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful close to 5,324,658 times. Which has nothing to do with anything, but I’ve been wanting an excuse to say that).

Anyway, Glinda’s title, “The Good,” doesn’t mean that she’s feeling fine that day, or that things are going great in her life. In this case, good describes her as a right and proper person – the opposite of wicked.

If she were Glinda the Well, not only would this sound strange, but it would totally change the meaning. Well in this case could mean the opposite of inept or the opposite of ill. While Glinda is neither ill nor inept, she wants to emphasize her opposition to the Wicked Witches; therefore, she is Good.

So, in daily life – or at least in your daily writing – remember to differentiate between good and well.

Well = not sick, functioning poorly, or otherwise behaving negatively.

Good = not the Wicked Witch of the West.

And that’s good.

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