June 2006 Vol. 11 Issue 2
Grammar Trap: good vs. well

Imagine yourself watching an old short from The Three Stooges.

Snobby socialite: How do you feel?

Moe, Larry, or Curly: Oh, I feel good.

Snobby socialite: I feel well!

Moe: Oh yeah, who asked you?

Taking the snob’s side for a minute, when do you use “good,” and when do you use “well”?

It’s actually quite a simple rule. Good is an adjective, so it describes nouns only. Well is an adverb, so can describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. As Paul Brians has observed, “You do something well, you give something good.”

Use good when you’re giving more information about the noun: “That’s a good dog” (modifying dog).

Use well when you’re providing more information about the verb: “The dog behaves well” (modifying behaves).

There is, as always, an exception to the rule. Some sources note that, in certain cases, you should still use “good” when referring to verbs of sensation (taste, smell). For example, “How does your hamburger taste?” If you respond with “My hamburger tastes well,” it sounds like you might want to cook it a bit longer.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Thanks to Branden R. Williams for suggesting this topic.

Kevin Leigh Smith, kevlsmith@purdue.edu
Do you have a Grammar Trap idea? Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith kevlsmith@purdue.edu.