That’s all well and good

Posted on Mar 18, 2012 | 0 comments

How are you feeling? Good? Or well? Or both?

To answer this correctly, you have to know what’s really being asked. Am I interested in your condition or mood? That calls for an adjective, so the answer would be “good.” Am I interested in how you are performing an activity, in this case feeling (an object)? The correct response would be the adverb “well.”

This becomes clearer if you substitute another set of words for good and well, for example, happy (adjective) and happily (adverb).

Let’s ask the question again: how are you feeling? If you say “happy,” that’s an adjective (like good) and it makes sense. But if you say “happily,” that’s an adverb (like well) and it only makes sense if you are happily feeling an object, such as your dog’s ears.

So, generally speaking, James Brown had it right. You’re almost never going to answer “How are you feeling” with “well”—except in one situation: when I ask about your health. In addition to its most common role as an adverb, well can also function as an adjective meaning “healthy” (the opposite of “ill”). So, if I ask specifically about your health, go ahead and answer “well”—even if you aren’t running your fingers over Bosco’s ears.