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Writing Tip: August 13, 2001

Using Good and Well as Modifiers

Can you tell which of these sentences use the words good and well correctly?

1. The financial report this year was good.
2. Our stocks performed well during the third quarter.
3. Carson is a good administrator.
4. The company provides well for its employees, offering good retirement and health-care benefits.

The words good and well are used correctly in all of these sentences.

Good is most commonly used as an adjective to describe nouns and pronouns, as in these examples:

- Spot is a good dog.
- The dog is good.
- He is a good eater.
- The concert sounded good even from the back row of the auditorium.

Note that in the second sentence, good is a predicate adjective following a linking verb; it describes the noun dog. In the last example, the verb sounded suggests no action on the part of the subject (that is, sounded is a linking verb), so an adverb would be inappropriate; instead, we use the adjective good to describe the noun concert.

The word well would be wrong in these four example sentences because it is an adverb. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Here are some correct uses of well as an adverb:

- The dog climbs fences well. (modifies the verb climbs)
- The child plays the piano well. (modifies the verb plays)
- Centrifugal force is a well-known principle of physics. (modifies the adjective known)

The distinctions between good and well become confusing, though, because well can also be used as an adjective that means "healthy":

- Nora used to be sick, but now she is well.

In this sentence, well is a predicate adjective describing the pronoun she. We could have written just as accurately "Nora used to be sick, but now she is healthy."

Keep in mind that both good and well are vague modifiers: they are very generalized, overused words that do not have precise connotations. When we can, therefore, we would do well to use words that make our sentences clearer and more meaningful.

In sentence 1 above, for example, we might have written "This year's financial report boasts a 10 percent increase in earnings over last year's." Similarly, because every reader will have his or her own idea of what constitutes a "good" administrator, sentence 3 would be clearer if we were to write "Carson is an efficient administrator." Good writing makes the writer's intended meaning perfectly clear, leaving no room for readers to interpret ideas differently.

TEST YOURSELF

Which word, good or well, would be more appropriate in each of these sentences?

1. The orchestra performed _____ and sounded _____ for the entire three-hour concert.
2. Computer technicians with _____ skills are in high demand.
3. Samantha looked _____ in the blue dress and hat.
4. After Bob lost his ring, he asked all of us to look for it _____ under our desks and in the wastebaskets.

ANSWERS

1. The orchestra performed well and sounded good for the entire three-hour concert.
2. Computer technicians with good skills are in high demand.
3. Samantha looked good in the blue dress and hat. [Note: In this sentence, looked is a linking verb, not an action verb; thus, good is a predicate adjective describing the noun Samantha.]
4. After Bob lost his ring, he asked all of us to look well under our desks and in the wastebaskets. [Note: In this sentence, look is an action verb, so we use the adverb well to modify it rather than the adjective good.]

Copyright 2001 Get It Write

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