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A person who said to be..............

  • "good manners".........."well-mannered"
  • "good behaviour"........"well-behaved"
  • "good intentions"........"well-intentioned"
  • "a good reputation"....."well-thought-of"
  • "a good upbringing"...."well-bred"
  • "a good education"......"well-educated"
  • "a good proportion"....."well-proportioned"
  • "a good taste"..............."well-tasted"

But someone who has "good looks" is said to be "good-looking". Would it be wrong to say "well-looking"?

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well-tasted? well-cooked food is idiomatic, and a well-done steak, passable but a well-tasted wine? No. That would be a good-tasting wine – Mari-Lou A Aug 30 '14 at 0:17
@Mari-LouA I mean a person who has good taste. – Centaurus Aug 30 '14 at 0:32
Still wrong, someone can have "good taste in clothes", but they can't be "well-tasted dressed", instead they are "well-dressed". Hey, wait and see if anyone else picks up on this. – Mari-Lou A Aug 30 '14 at 0:40
well-tasted adjective (now rare) (a) having a good taste or flavour; (b) (of a person) having good taste – Centaurus Aug 30 '14 at 0:42
Your question stems from a misunderstanding: good-looking does not mean ‘who has good looks’ (that would, as your examples, yield the nonexistent *well-looked if turned into an attributive adjective through the means of a past participle); it means ‘who looks good’. Same as how the wine that tastes good is good-tasting. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 30 '14 at 0:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The reason one says good-looking is because someone looks good.

This is just the same reason why it’s nice-sounding for sounding nice, sweet-smelling for smelling sweet, good-tasting for tasting good, bird-watching for watching birds, acid-producing for producing acid, bear-baiting for baiting bears, or even a claim-jumper for someone who jumps claims and a skyscraper for a tall building that scrapes the skies.

In all cases, the predicate complement, which normally follows the finite verb, becomes here the hyphenated prefix falling before the -ing word when the verbal phrase gets used adjectivally. Normally these complements are direct objects (and thus substantives) of transitive verbs, but for the sense verb, they are adjectives.

The Romance languages do not form compound words using this sort of inversion of verb and object. So where English has skyscraper, Spanish has rascacielos, Portuguese has arranha-céu, French has gratte-ciel, Italian has grattacielo, and Catalan has gratacel or tocanúvols. Here the complement follows the verb, whereas in English, it precedes it.

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Addition: they're normally direct objects, or subject complements for linking verbs (nice-seeming, harsh-appearing, etc.). Note that English does have a few compounds that work in the ‘Romance’ way, the most widely discussed example being pickpocket. There is a whole PhD thesis about them. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 30 '14 at 1:08
@JanusBahsJacquet It hardly seems fair that pickpockets and nitpickers should hang out at opposite ends of the connective spectrum. Obviously the pocketpickers are trying to disguise their nefarious activities by using a nonstandard ordering. :) – tchrist Aug 30 '14 at 1:17

"well-looking" is the opposite of sick-looking, "good-looking" the opposite of ugly-looking.

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When we say “he means well” and “he is well-meaning”, “well” is an adverb modifying the verb “mean”. When we say “he looks good” and “he is good-looking”, “good” is not an adverb but an adjective used as a predicate complement, as in “he is good”, or “the food tastes good”.In “he looks well” and “he is well-looking”, “well” is not the adverb from “good” but the adjective “well” = “healthy”. So here too we have a predicate complement, not an adverb.

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In that case, why don't we say "He is good-mannered? – Centaurus Aug 30 '14 at 1:06
Because there is no verb "to manner". Here "well" is an adverb modifying an adjective. – fdb Aug 30 '14 at 1:07
To paraphrase you, when we say "he has good intentions", good is not an adverb, but an adjective used as a predicate complement. However, contrary to what you said, when we form the compound-adjective, we use the adverb "well". – Centaurus Aug 30 '14 at 1:15
No, "good" in "good intentions" is an attributive adjective, not a predicate. – fdb Aug 30 '14 at 1:18
I got confused here. I guess you're right. – Centaurus Aug 30 '14 at 1:20

No, looking well means that one is looking healthy. Many would say that good looks means that one is healthy, but generally when used in that way, it would not work.

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Looking is a "gerund" (an -ing verb used as a noun). Hence, it is modified by the adjective good, rather than the adverb well. In your other examples with "well," (mannered, behaved, etc.), it modified verbs (in the past tense).

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"Good-looking" is not a noun but an adjective. – fdb Aug 30 '14 at 0:51
@fdb: Yes, the combined word "goodlooking" is an adjective. But individually, looking is still the noun, and good is the adjective. – Tom Au Aug 30 '14 at 2:12
In this context "looking" is the present participle of the verb "to look", i.e., an adjective. – fdb Aug 30 '14 at 2:16

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