Good vs. Well, Bad vs. Badly
Do you cringe when you ask someone “How are you?” and the person replies,
Perhaps, like me, you are expecting the response to be “I’m well, thank you,” and the “I’m good” offends your expectations.
However, if your complaint is that good is an adjective and well is an adverb, you’re on thin ice.
The fact that well is the adverbial form of good is irrelevant because in this expression, both good and well are being used as adjectives.
Good and well function as more than one part of speech:
The diner is noted for good food. (adjective)
A true statesman is dedicated to the common good. (noun)
You speak French well. (adverb)
He was ill, but now he is well. (adjective)
Life is like a well. (noun)
As an adjective, well is usually used to mean “sound in health,” or “recovered from sickness.” An earlier sense of “prosperous” survives in the expressions “well to do,” and “well off.”
One of the numerous meanings of good is “morally commendable, virtuous.” This definition is invoked by speakers who wish to ridicule the “I’m good” response. For example, in an episode of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan corrects another character who has said “I’m good” this way: “Superman is good; you’re well.”
Another meaning of good is “satisfactory, unimpaired, not depressed or dejected.”
Although the “I’m good” response still strikes many ears as colloquial at best, it is not ungrammatical.
Speakers who object to the usage are free to avoid it in their own speech, but they may wish to refrain from ridiculing its use in the speech of others.
While we’re at it, this may be a good place to mention a common error with the adjective bad and its adverbial form badly.
Here are some incorrect uses of badly from the web:
Facebook makes us feel badly about ourselves.
I think awards just make the other kids who didn’t get awards feel badly.
Maybe her intention isn’t to make you feel badly, and you’re making yourself feel badly.
I guess I just sometimes feel badly for my extrovert kids.
These are all from commenters and amateur bloggers, but even professional writers fall into the error:
People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. –John M. Grohol, Doctor of Psychology
You must never feel badly about making mistakes…” –Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
In each instance, the expression should be “feel bad,” not “feel badly.”
Badly is an adverb. It must be used with a verb that expresses an action.
Feel can be either a linking verb or an action verb, but when it is used in the sense of experiencing an emotion, it is a linking verb and takes an adjective to complete it: “I feel bad.”
As an action verb, feel means “to handle” or “to touch.” For example, a person who “feels badly” would have trouble learning to read Braille.
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