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 'good' and 'well'
a good teacher teaches well

Sven Wagner from Sweden asks:

Why do you use good instead of well in the following phrase?:

'We eat good and drink well.' (An English colleague put it that way.)


Roger replies:more questions

good = adjective
well = adverb

Therefore it has to be we eat well as we are describing how we eat and drink. It might be said that adverbs answer the question How…? whilst adjectives answer the question What sort of…?

Study the following:

  • 'She speaks good Japanese.'
  • 'She speaks Japanese well.'
  • 'She speaks Japanese better than I do.'
Note that better is the comparative form of both good and well.
In English, we often play around with basic language, whether consciously or unconsciously, for effect. So, whilst 'we eat well and drink well' would be grammatically correct, 'we eat good and drink well' may be more effective in terms of impact because it breaks the grammatical rule. I would not recommend it, however, if you are taking an exam, but it will sound good over a drink with friends.

Why not sound well in this particular example? It is because when we use verbs such as be, seem, appear, sound, look, feel, smell, taste, they are followed by adjectives rather than adverbs as we are describing the subject of the sentence rather than the action of the verb.

So we have:

  • 'She looks really good in those clothes.'

  • 'The food at the reception tasted really good - better than the food we had last year.'

  • 'There's no way he'll get a distinction, but the work he's done appears good enough for a pass.'

  • 'I felt really good when she congratulated me on winning the essay prize.'
For similar reasons we would talk about:
    A good-looking woman.
    A good-natured boy. (good describes his nature)
But we would also say:
  • A well-dressed woman. (well tells us how she dresses)
  • A well-behaved boy. (well tells us how he behaves)
Look up good and well in your dictionaries to see if you can find further examples of adjectives formed in this way.
The only time when well can be used as an adjective by itself is when we are talking about someone's health. Here well means in good health. Compare the following:
  • 'How are you today?' 'Fine. Very well, thanks. / Not very well, actually.'

  • 'I often feel unwell when I'm on a boat, but as soon as I get off, I'm fine.
Note that the expression well and good is used to indicate that you find a particular situation satisfactory or acceptable. Thus, we might say:
  • 'If you can do the job in less time and leave early, I don't mind. That's (all very) well and good.'

  • 'If you want to stay here on your own over Christmas, well and good.
Incidentally, there is now a trend among young people, particularly in the 18 - 25 age range, to use well instead of very in expressions like:
  • 'I am well happy with that.'

  • 'I was well tired last night.

  • 'She was well pleased with her birthday present.'

Again it breaks the rule and is effective in the impact it makes.

Well used in this way often refers to exceptional circumstances or is used as a summary statement. I wonder if this creative use of the English language has reached you yet in your part of the world?

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