The Grammarphobia Blog

Adverbs on the hoof

Q: Why are adverbs used so rarely in horse racing? For example, “He ran real good.”

A: We’re not so sure adverbs are used rarely in horse racing. A bit of googling gets just about as many hits for “He ran real good” and “He ran real well.”

Many of the results (with and without adverbs) do indeed refer to horse racing, but not all of them. Others refer to people running on tracks, or in a football games, or at other sporting events.

Why do some sportswriters prefer “good” to “well” in a sentence like the one you mentioned? We can think of a few possible reasons:

1) They may not know that adverbs (like “well”) generally modify verbs and that adjectives (like “good”) generally modify nouns.

2) They may feel that “well” sounds a bit stuffy for a racing story and that “good” is acceptable in informal writing.

3) They may be confused by the standard English use of “good” instead of “well” with a linking verb like “be,” “feel,” “seem, “look,” etc. Example: “He looked good before the race.”

If you want to read more, we’ve had many items on our blog about “well” and “good,” including a posting in 2010 that has links to a couple of others.

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