The Grammarphobia Blog

All well and good, again

Q: You’ve written about “well” and “good,” but here are some examples that still aren’t clear to me: (1) “Is everything well/good with you?” (2) “I hope all is well/good there.” (3) “I’m well/good” with it. (4) “He feels well/good after surgery.” (5) “The wound has healed and he’s well/good.”

A: In most of your “well/good” examples, the verb is a form of “be,” which is a linking verb.

And linking verbs—“be,” “feel,” “seem,” “look,” and others—are generally modified by “good,” with one major exception.

If you’re speaking specifically about a person’s health—in the sense of being “well” as opposed to “sick”—then choose “well.”

That’s generally the situation today, according to most usage authorities, but the history of “well” and “good” is much more complicated.

We won’t get into the etymology now, except to say that “well” was used as an adjective back in Anglo-Saxon times in some of the ways we’d use “good” today.

Getting back to your question, use “good” in examples 1, 2, and 3. And use “well” in examples 4 and 5.

If you’re still having trouble, try substituting “bad/badly” or “pretty/prettily” for “good/well,” and that might make things clearer.

As you mention, we’ve written several blog items about this business of “well” and “good,” including posts in 2009 and 2008.

The thing to remember is this: if your verb is a form of “be” (“is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” “were,” etc.) or another linking verb (like “feel” or “seem”), use “good” unless you’re talking about health.

You also use “well” if it’s part of a common idiom, as in “All is well at our house” or “All’s well that ends well” or “That’s all well and good.”

And on that note, we’ll end with a line (later echoed by T. S. Eliot) from Juliana of Norwich, a 14th-century English mystic: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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