Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Well Versus Good

When was the last time someone asked how you were, then corrected one of your "I'm good!" responses by telling you it should be "I'm well!"? I know it has happened to me often enough that even when someone else gives a "good" response, that little corner of my mind is triggered. The idea is that well is an adverb (so it modifies a verb) and good is an adjective (and modifies nouns). But not so fast! Saying "I'm good!" isn't always wrong. The key to sorting all this out is in understanding linking verbs versus action verbs.

Action verbs are easy: they describe actions (run, jump, dive). To describe an action verb, you use an adverb, such as well. Linking verbs, on the other hand, are less about action and more about connecting words together. Hence the linking. Got it? Let's look at a couple linking verbs just in case: to be, is, look, am, appear, become, and sense related verbs like smell and feel. There are occasions where you will run into linking verbs that can also function as action verbs; in this case, try replacing the verb with to be or is. If the sentence still makes sense, you have a linking verb on your hands.

Now why did you just learn all that? The trick to why saying "I am good" is correct is right there in the linking verb. It's common, and standard, to use adjectives (such as good) after linking verbs. In that case, they become predicate adjectives, referring back to the noun that comes before the linking verb (the I in "I am good"). Saying "I am well" is using well as a predicate adjective also. In this sense, well more often refers to your health and feeling well. Therefore, on a general happy day, it is absolutely appropriate to respond with "I'm good."

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