How Are You? Good or Well?

Written by on August 11, 2014 in Blog, Grammar, Interviews with 0 Comments

I Feel Good

When I ask people “How are you?”, I typically receive a response of “I’m well, thank you.” But is that the right response? Should you say good or well?

This is a particularly sensitive issue, because in almost every interview situation candidates are asked something similar to “How are you?” And you’ll probably be asked that question by a number of people.

keyboard with grammar key, used to show proper way of using good or well.

I know that most people don’t want to say well. I can tell by the change in cadence or the way they emphasize the word well. But they feel it’s proper grammar, so they respond with well. It’s funny to watch the responses from people if you say, “I’m good,” instead of “I’m well.”

Some people raise their eyebrows and cast a sideways glance. Others hide a snicker, as if you’ve committed a grievous error. But nobody questions you if you respond with “I’m great.” Or “Fantastic.” The reason they don’t is because those answers sound right. And they sound right because they are proper answers. The problem comes up because well is an adjective, but it’s also an adverb.

I know what’s going through your mind—the same thing that goes through everyone’s mind…

But well is an adverb, and adverbs modify verbs.

As we all know, there are almost as many exceptions to rules as there are rules in the English language. I am going to try to put this explanation in the simplest form.

Which Is Correct—Good or Well?

When someone asks you, “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” should I say good or well? Good is the preferred response to the question, “How are you feeling?” (for clarity) but you can respond with either. It is also perfectly fine to respond with any adjective. So the following are all correct.

  • I’m fine.
  • I’m great.
  • I’m good.
  • Fantastic.
  • I’m well.

Of the good or well controversy, “I am well” is not wrong, but not for the reasons many people believe.

If you respond, “I am well,” you are using well as a predicate adjective, not an adverb. A linking verb like “feel, taste, smell, and look” takes a predicate adjective not an adverb. So, for the same reasons that you say, “that apple tastes good,” or “he smells bad,” or “she looks good,” (or great or terrible)…for those same reasons you say, “I feel good.” Or “I’m good.”

“When you say “I feel well,” and well is an adverb, you are literally saying that you “feel” or “touch” well. In other words your touch sensation is better than average. That is because “feel” in that sense is not a linking verb but an ‘action’ verb which requires an adverb.

Some people stand by a belief that while it might be all right to say good for some things, when it comes to health, well must be used. If you have a question about that, take a look at what Merriam-Webster has to say regarding the subject.

Usage Discussion of Good An old notion that it is wrong to say “I feel good” in reference to health still occasionally appears in print. The origins of this notion are obscure, but they seem to combine someone’s idea that good should be reserved to describe virtue and uncertainty about whether an adverb or an adjective should follow feel. Today nearly everyone agrees that both good and well can be predicate adjectives after feel. Both are used to express good health, but good may connote good spirits in addition to good health.

One More Thing To Remember

If you have any questions about whether to use good or well, here’s a rule for the future. Try to remember it.

When someone asks how you feel, and assuming you don’t feel good, would you say, “I feel bad,” or would you say, “I feel badly.”?

I’m sure you would use “bad.” And you would be correct. You might use “terrible,” or “horrible,” or “sick,” or “ill”. And you would use those words because they are adjectives.

James Brown performing I Feel Good, used to explain the grammar rules for good and wellSo the next time someone asks you “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” take a deep breath, puff up your chest and shout it out, just like James Brown did so many years ago.

I Feel Good!

Or great, fantastic, wonderful, or any other adjective you want to use. You can even use well, but if you do, say it with pride, knowing you’re using an adjective, not an adverb.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Jim (Giacomo) Giammatteo is a headhunter who writes resumes and cover letters. He is the author of No Mistakes Resumes, and No Mistakes Interviews. He also writes gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

PS: If anyone gives you any trouble about this, direct them to these links:

(If you have access, you can also check the AP Style Guide and/or the Chicago Manual of Style.)

Grammar Girl

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab

Merriam-Webster

photo credit: Telstar Logistics via photopin cc

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About the Author

About the Author:

When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy.
For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com

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