Many people, native English speakers included, often confuse and misuse these two words.
“Good” is an adjective and “well” is an adverb. Bear in mind, however, that well can also act as an adjective in certain contexts, which we will look at later in this article.
So, let us start with “good” and present some examples. As it is an adjective, it is used to describe a noun:
It is a good book. She did a good job.
Here, “good” describes the nouns book and job. However, if you are asking about how the job is performed, then you must use “well”: She did the job well. The key is to remember that when we talk about how something is done, we use “well” and when we refer to nouns we use “good”. Let’s look at more examples:
She speaks French very well. She plays the piano well.
The use of “well” refers to the actions of speaking and playing, both verbs.
You smell good! You look good!
In these instances “good” describes you (a pronoun) and not how you smell or the act of looking (a verb), so the adjective is chosen. If the word is used actively, then you are more likely to use “well”: He smells well despite having a bad cold. In this example, the action of smelling with the nose is described.
This rule is relevant when we talk about the four senses – look, feel, smell and taste. The use of “good” or “well” will depend on whether these four words are used in an active sense or not.
However, when we refer to our health, we use “well”: I don’t feel well today. He does not look well.
When you talk about someone’s emotional condition or mental state, you must use “good”: She does not feel good about cheating in her exam.
So, if someone asks you “How are you?” they are most likely to be enquiring about your physical well being and you should answer with “well” as in “I am well, thanks” (this is when well becomes an adjective) or: I feel well today OR I don’t feel well today.
If you think it is your emotional state they are asking about, then you can use “good”: I feel good today OR I don’t feel good.
To deal with any possible confusion, it is probably easier to say: “I feel fine”, “I feel great” or “I feel ill”.
So, remember that the adjective “good” is usually combined with a noun (a good wine, a good book) whereas the adverb “well” is matched with action words – verbs: She writes well. He plays football well.
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