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Difference Between Well & Good

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

While people often use them interchangeably, 'well' and 'good' are actually different parts of speech that do different things. 'Well' can either be an adjective or adverb, while 'good' can either be an adjective or noun.

Superman Does Good

Here is an old joke that English teachers and grammar nerds love to play on people to be obnoxious:

Person 1: How are you doing?
\Person 2: I'm doing good.
Person 1: No, Superman does good. You're doing well. Learn your grammar.

So, what's going on here? Why is person 2 grammatically incorrect? Don't 'well' and 'good' just mean the same thing?

Well, not really. While it seems like 'well' and 'good' are synonyms, or words that have the same meaning, they actually are not. They often function as different parts of speech, with 'good' being a noun and 'well' being an adverb. And even when they are an adjective, which both can be, they have slightly different meanings. This lesson will take a look at the differences.

Good

The word 'good' can either be a noun or an adjective. The noun form is the one used in the Superman joke, referring to good or morally superior works, such as:

  • Even though his methods are unconventional, Batman always fights on the side of good.
  • Soldiers make the choice to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.

'Good' can also be an adjective, or word used to describe a noun. It is used to describe nouns that are positive or desirable in some way, such as:

  • Dr. Katz is a good doctor.
  • It is good that we settled our argument.

Well

'Well' can also be used as an adjective, but usually in the specific situations of referring to health or something that is advisable:

  • I finally got well after having the flu for two weeks.
  • It would be well to sleep on it before deciding to buy the new house.

In addition, 'well' can be an adverb, or word that is used to describe a verb or adjective. When the person says 'you are doing well' in the Superman joke, this is the meaning he uses, as 'well' modifies your verb 'doing.' Here are some other examples of the adverb 'well:'

  • The recipe says to mix vinegar and olive oil and stir well.
  • I scored well on my driver's exam.

The Confusion

So, going back to our Superman joke, where did Person 2 go wrong? He made the common mistake of using 'good' as a synonym for the adverb 'well:'

  • I'm doing good.

But since 'good' is not an adverb, it can't modify the verb 'doing.' In the joke, Person 1 points out that 'good' is a noun, not an adverb:

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