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These photos came out well.

or

These photos came out good.

According to the proper usage of well and good, the former would be describing the quality of the taking and developing of the photo; the latter would be describing the state of the photo as a finished product.

Are both of these acceptable?

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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Both are valid, though "These photos came out well" would be more common. Without going into adverbial usage of "good", one could usefully distinguish the adverbial and adjectival meanings. Whether any of the listeners/readers will catch this distinction or gain anything from it is doubtful, though.

For instance, I'd prefer

  • "These photos came out quickly" over
    "These photos came out quick" (the process happened quickly)

but would prefer

  • "These photos came out blurry" over
    "These photos came out blurrily" (the end result was blurry, not the process)

So in that sense (I think) both "These photos came out good" and "These photos came out well" can be right and mean different things, but in practice, because "adverbial good" is so widespread (see nohat's answer), listeners would probably be more likely to think you meant the process and were using the "wrong" or informal adverb than to think you were using the right adjective.

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2  
To expand on the adjectival usage: it's certainly correct. We'd say "The soldiers returned exhausted", not "returned exhaustedly". "He left school intelligent" is correct and not the same as "He left school intelligently". The British national anthem has "Send her victorious, happy and glorious", not "Send her victoriously, happily and gloriously". :-) –  ShreevatsaR Aug 6 '10 at 18:57
    
Good answer with good examples. –  Chris Dwyer Aug 6 '10 at 19:56
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Considering that "You do something well, but a thing is good.", since the expression "These photos came out" is more about a process (of taking the photos), I would be inclined to favor the first usage:

"These photos came out well."

( Plus, "These photos came out good." doesn't sound as good. "as well"? No. "as good" )

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I think you're exactly right. –  mouche Aug 6 '10 at 16:06
    
So a vote for the process. I think I'm leaning towards your side. However, I have come across people who insist that the verb "came out" point to the end product/noun (the developed photos), and thus the modifier is an adjective. –  Chris Dwyer Aug 6 '10 at 16:30
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Ah yes, adverbial use of good. Another classic prescriptivist bugbear.

Merriam-Webster writes:

Adverbial good has been under attack from the schoolroom since the 19th century...Adverbial good is primarily a spoken form; in writing it occurs in reported and fictional speech and in generally familiar or informal contexts.

Both examples in the original question would be what linguists call "grammatical" in that it is a usage used frequently by native speakers, but the long proscription of adverbial good by prescriptivists has resulted in what Merriam-Webster call a split in connotation: "well is standard, neutral, and colorless, while good is emotionally charged and emphatic."

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Good is an adjective; well is an adverb, which is applied to a verb.
Just as an adjective applies to a noun, so an adverb applies to the verb.

In British English then, the correct usage would be to use the adverb, and say

the photos came out well.

As a special case, the verb "to be" (a copular verb) typically takes an adjective, so it would be quite normal to say:

the photos are good / the photos were good / ... will be good

("To be" can take an adverb too, but "You are well/ill/poorly" mean something quite different from "You are good/bad/poor")

As another example, with someone who "is slow" we could say they "go slowly".

In German and some other Germanic languages there is usually no special adverbial form, so it's quite common in areas where German migrants have settled (like in the US) to hear the adjective and never the adverb. For the example above, a German would simply say "langsam" ("slow") in both cases.

British English has maintained the French use of adverbs, so we make a distinction between the two forms; to my British ears, the use of an adjective ("good") where I would normally hear an adverb ("well") just sounds wrong. I think in American English you can get away with it, at least in speech, but it's worth knowing the rule.

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How does this apply to my question? I understand the difference between well and good. I feel my example is ambiguous as to which is proper usage. What do you think? –  Chris Dwyer Aug 6 '10 at 16:27
    
I'm not sure I've ever seen any evidence that German and French have had an influence on use of adjectives as adverbs in English. In any case, all the dictionaries I looked in have both adverbial and adjectival senses for both "well" and "good"; e.g. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/good merriam-webster.com/dictionary/well dictionary.reference.com/browse/good dictionary.reference.com/browse/well so I think the claim that good is an adjective and well is an adverb also lacks a little in the evidence department. –  nohat Aug 6 '10 at 16:49
    
Evidence: "Adjective or Adverb?" owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/537/02 –  njd Aug 6 '10 at 17:14
    
This is the correct answer, and @Chris Dwyer's assumption that a semantic distinction can be made based on the choice of well or good is specious. A small sample, but I find 69 instances of "photos came out well" in Google Books, as against only 3 for "photos came out good" (which latter sounds decidedly "off" to me). –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 '12 at 3:21
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