A reader has asked me to comment on the following sentences:
Didn’t they do good……. The boy did good.
The word good has numerous definitions and nuances. I started to count all those listed in the OED entry, but gave up, there were so many.
The chief use of good is as an adjective: Read any good books lately?
It is also frequently used as a noun: Political leaders should consider the common good.
A few special constructions exist in which good is used adverbially: He as good as told me he was quitting.
Besides being ungrammatical, using good to modify a verb creates ambiguity.
The sentences “Didn’t they do good” and “The boy did good” suggest that “they” and “the boy” were occupied in doing good works.
In one of my favorite scenes in the television show 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan asks someone “How are you doing?” When the other character responds “Good. I’m doing good!” Tracy fixes him with a disapproving stare and says
Superman does good. You’re doing well.
If “they” and “the boy” are not “doing good” in the sense that Superman and Habitat for Humanity do good, then the good is being used incorrectly.
One way to improve these sentences is to replace the adjective good with the adverb well:
Didn’t they do well? The boy did well.
If this use of “well” sounds too stuffy for conversation, then the sentences could be rendered as
Didn’t they do a good job? The boy did a good job.
As language descriptivists would tell us, good is often used as an adverb in conversation. This is true. I use it myself at times, in fun, or to convey praise without seeming sentimental. Ex. You done good, Son! Nevertheless, speakers and writers aiming at standard usage acceptable to a wide audience do well to avoid this construction.
Bottom line: Using good to qualify a verb is still considered by most style-conscious writers to be nonstandard usage, best reserved for use as a character marker in fiction to indicate class, region or educational level.
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