Well vs. Good – What’s Proper in Which Context?

well vs goodIt isn’t uncommon to hear the phrase, “I’m doing good,” or, “I don’t feel good.” They’re spoken often enough that it sounds right, but in reality both phrases use the word good where the word well should rightfully be. This is an easy mistake to make. The words well and good both seem to mean the same general thing, and are often used interchangeably. In this guide, we’ll cover the key grammatical differences between well vs. good, and teach you how to use them both correctly. Check out this English grammar boost course to learn more about common usage errors and fixes.

Well Vs. Good

If you’re one of the many who confuse the words well and good, there is no need to feel bad. The English language is rife with these mistakes. The confusion between affect and effect, or even affective and effective, among others, are common culprits, especially if English is not your first language. If that’s the case (or if you’re particularly curious), you can learn all the basics in this introduction to English grammar course, or troubleshoot your English language mistakes here. Now it’s time to pit well vs. good and see what we learn.

The Definition of Well

The dictionary definition of well, according to Merriam-Webster, is:

well – adverb

Syllabification: well   Pronunciation: \ˈwel\ Definition:

  • in a successful way
  • in a skillful way
  • in a positive way

In our examination of well vs. good, we’re of course using the adverb variant of well, meaning “in a successful” or “skillful way,” and not the noun variant of well that refers to holes used for storing water. Well also has an adjective variant that means “in good health,” but we’ll get to that later. Focus on the adverb version for now.

The Definition of Good

The dictionary definition of good, according to Merriam-Webster, is:

good – adjective

Syllabification: well   Pronunciation: \ˈgu̇d\ Definition:

  • of high quality
  • correct or proper
  • agreeable, pleasant, satisfactory

The noun variant of good, which we won’t focus on here, refers to “morally good forces or influences,” or “something that is right or good.” We’d use this word in sentences like, “It’s for your own good,” or “the battle of good vs. evil.” When it comes to good‘s relationship to the word well, we want to examine the adjective variant meaning “correct,” or “of high quality,” or “agreeable, pleasant, satisfactory.”

Well Vs. Good – What’s the Difference?

The really important difference between well and good, and the factor that determines how we should use both, has less to do with the precise dictionary definition of the words (chances are you’re familiar enough with both), and more with the actual word types we’re dealing with. Well is an adverb, and good is an adjective. As we know, adjectives are describing words used to describe nouns, while adverbs are describing words used to describe verbs.

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Good

We should use the adjective good when we want to describe a person, place, or thing that is “of high quality,” or “pleasant.” If you had fun at a friend’s party, you might tell them, “I had a good day.” If a friend’s performance received a standing ovation, you might tell them, “You did a good job.” In both sentences, the word good describes the noun you’re discussing – your day, or your friend’s job putting on a performance. Both were good.

Well

We should use the word well when we want to describe a verb that was performed in a successful or positive way. If you completed an exam with no trouble, you might say, “I did well on my exam.” Here, you aren’t describing the exam itself, but how you performed on the exam. The word well defines the verb did.

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Can We Switch Them?

Sometimes, given the context, there are ways to rephrase sentences to use both terms. You could say, “I work well under pressure,” because well is describing the word work, which functions in this sentence as a verb. Or, you could change it up and say, “I do good work under pressure.” Here, the adjective good is being used to describe the noun work, which functions in this sentence as a noun.

The confusion over interchangeability comes mostly in the phrase, “I feel good.” If you want to refer to being in good health, it’s more common to use the adjective variant of well, as in, “I feel well.” If you’re referring to a positive outlook or confidence in something, you might say, “I feel good,” because good is not replacing well as an adverb, but functioning as an adjective to describe the way you feel about something.

If you want a cheat for remembering the difference between well and good, remember the grammatically correct phrases well done and good job. In the first, well describes done, the past participle variant of the verb do, and in the second, good describes the noun job. Consult this advanced English grammar course for more tips.