Column: Well, it’s all well and good


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

According to G.K. Chesterton, “The word ‘good’ has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.” First of all, I have to tip my cap to Chesterton’s excellent use of the subjunctive case when he uses “were” in the second sentence. Secondly, “well” and “good” are often misunderstood in our language.

“I know the difference between well and good,” your inner voice is probably yelling right now. Great—you get a gold star! Let’s review, shall we? Good is an adjective while well is an adverb (most of the time). We’ll get to the “most of the time” part in a second.

Here’s what you already know about good and well. Good is an adjective. It should always be used to describe or modify nouns. For example: Nate is a good sportswriter. Well is (almost) always an adverb. Use it to modify a verb, adverb or an adjective. For example: He writes about the Chiefs well. He does his job well.

Now, it’s time to reconcile the confusing exceptions. Only use “well” as an adverb when using linking verbs (including be, look or feel) that describe the state of someone’s health. Monica wasn’t feeling well the time her hand got chopped off. Yesterday I was sick; today I am well. I don’t feel well because I drank some water from the dilapidated well. You get the idea.

If we use “well” to describe someone’s health, we use “good” to describe someone’s emotional state of being. LeBron felt good about his decision to take his talents to Miami. Byron didn’t feel good after he lied to his kids about Santa. In these cases, we’re using “good” as an adverb. Did you ever know it was OK to use “good” as an adverb? My mind is blown.

So, the next time someone asks you how you’re doing, you can say, “I’m doing good” or “I’m doing well.” Depending on how you choose to answer the question, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “well” or “good.” Although, I suspect if your hand gets chopped off, you probably don’t feel very well or very good.