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In the northeastern USA I usually hear "good for you," as in

You passed the test? Good for you! [congrats]

Good for you, for stopping to help! [you are a good person]

Online I often see the variant "good on you/good on ya" written, as in

You passed the test? Good on ya!

Good on you for stopping to help!

(I was able to find this discussion about the phrases, but there seems to be little agreement about which English speakers use which variant. We've also got a definition here of "good for you".)

Is there a difference in usage between the two phrases - are they used in different ways? Or, do they mean the same thing and are used by speakers of different dialects?

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I think you've rather answered your own question, in that you've substituted one phrase for the other with no change of meaning. –  user1579 May 31 '11 at 15:45
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Using "good on you" (usually pronounced "yeh") is one of the signifiers - like "throw some shrimp on the barbie" - that Americans use to make it clear that they're imitating an Aussie. I have no idea how authentic it is, however. –  MT_Head May 31 '11 at 15:47
    
@Rhodri that's what I think, that at least in this context they're interchangeable, but I'm not sure :) –  aedia λ May 31 '11 at 15:50
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"Good on you (ya)" is Australian dialect for "good for you." If an American were to use it, it would be referencing "Strine." –  The Raven May 31 '11 at 17:49
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@Raven I had never heard of Strine :) You and @Mt_Head may well be right that some of the instances of "good on ya" I've seen are Americans imitating Australians! –  aedia λ Jun 1 '11 at 19:16
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12 Answers 12

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I can only speak from a British English perspective, but the two phrases would be unambiguously different to me.

Good for you would be a way of acknowledging that some good has come to a person, and implying that one approves of it and are happy for the person (ie. "that's good for you").

Good on you would be a way of thanking a person explicitly for something they have done (ie. "I wish good on you").

In your examples, then, the more appropriate usage in the 2 phrases would be:

  • You passed the test? Good for you!
  • Good on you for stopping to help!
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That's the way I think I've mostly heard "good on you" used as well, to mean "good of you". If you Google you will find most instances having that sense. But I think I might've also heard it occasionally to mean "good for you": perhaps by Americans? It sounds decidedly Commonwealth to me, especially Australian. I can imagine an Englishman saying "well done" with a cockney accent; but an Australian? He would most probably say "good on ya", as would a New Zealander. Do we have any antipodes hanging around here? They're probably asleep now... –  Cerberus May 31 '11 at 16:45
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From a British English perspective, I don't agree. They both have the same meaning to me. Or: "Good on you" would only be used to congratulate someone on an action they have taken or something they obtained for themselves, whereas "good for you" could be used for any positive event regardless of if the subject had a hand in creating it. –  victoriah May 31 '11 at 16:56
    
For me, 'good on you' is basically the same as 'thank you'. You wouldn't say 'thank you' as mere congratulation. –  Jez May 31 '11 at 17:03
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I disagree. "Good on you" does not come over "Thank you" to me, except in as much as it's a side-effect of congratulating someone on a job well done. –  user1579 Jun 1 '11 at 12:55
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I think now I understand how "good on you" is used instead of "good for you" by some speakers, especially BrE speakers. Take these examples of usage on reddit for example. It's like thanking someone, wishing good to come to them because of the good they did by donating. But "good for you" is for any positive thing as @victoriah explains. I don't distinguish these meanings in my speech! –  aedia λ Jun 1 '11 at 19:34
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American, East-coaster here, 50-ish!
Nobody ever said 'good on you' anywhere in the US until recent decades, and very few people use it, probably referencing Aussie speech as mentioned above. (To an American ear, it sounds odd. Almost like a substance has been spotted on a person's shoulder... "Wait, there is some good on you... all set, I've brushed it off!")

"Good for you" is a way to congratulate someone here either for good fortune (lottery) or for a good act (persevering, helping another, passing a test).

To thank someone, there would be a longer phrase including the words 'good of you.' And I think 'nice of you' is probably more common here in this instance -- We might even hear "kind of you" here but it sounds stodgy, probably more among older people. That was really good/nice of you; it was good/nice of you to come tonight...

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As an Australian I can definitely say that "good on you" is used here both as a way to congratulate someone and also to thank someone. The difference in meaning will be obvious by the tone and context in which it is said. I have always thought that when used as a form of congratulation it was the Australian version of "good for you".

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"Good for you" is a reference to something you have DONE (or said).

In American English, "Good on you" is a reference to something that you are wearing. "That hat looks "GOOD ON YOU."

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From the perspective of a New Zealander who lived in Australia for some time and now lives in North East USA: they are interchangeable. "Good on you" is definitely more of a Australia/NZ phrase, but used sincerely "Good for you" means the same thing. However "good for you" is more often used sarcastically in Australia/NZ in my experience.

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I'm an American and I agree with some of the other commenters. "Good for you" is often used sarcastically in the US as well. In fact, I very rarely hear it used in a sincere manner and even when it is, it still sounds somewhat patronizing to me. It's not something you would even hear an adult say to another adult. On the other hand, I've never heard an American say "good on you." The only time I've heard it used (in memory) was on a British TV show and it was used in the same way as "good for you." It was more of an acknowledgment that they had done something good and worth praising, but not necessarily in a congratulatory manner.

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This answer lacks reputable source citations. Because of this it might attract downvotes. –  MετάEd Oct 5 '13 at 3:24
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For what it's worth I am a 41 year old German who lived in US for 17 years and now in New Zealand for past 7 years. I think the two can be used interchangeably, but can have slightly different nuances. 'Good for you' does not imply that what was done has any positive impact on the person procaliming it. However, 'good on you' could imply that whatever was done has also a positive impact on the person proclaiming it or another group. The latter also emphaises the active role plaid by the doer a bit more. For example I don't think anyone would say: 'good on ya for winning the lottery.' To me the latter has therefore definitely more of a complimentary component. But as others have said they are often used interchangeably and the contxt does matter. I agree with the above that 'good for you' is used sarcastically at times, while I have never heard 'good on ya' used in that fashion. Somehow the latter has more of a chummy comraderie and participatory feel to it and usually is accompanied by a pat on the shoulder. But maybe that's just a clutural difference.

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I think it is a regionalism. Growing up in Oklahoma I heard "good for you" all the time, but never heard "good on you" until I moved to the east coast. There's perhaps a shade of meaning difference between them, but not enough that I can even describe it.

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Perhaps arbitrary, but I hear "good for you" often used in a sarcastic manner.

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I grew up in the American South. "Good for you," was used very often sarcastically in a reply to a braggardly comment. But also used healthwise like, "A low cholesterol diet is good for you". "Good on you", was used in reference to apparel like, "That sun dress looks good on you".

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The most recent Person of Interest episode had one character, Owen, saying to Reese (the hero in the series) "Good on you" as a way of showing his appreciation for what Reese had done for him. The Owen character is supposed to be a snarky American computer nerd. His "Good on you" was intended to be sincere, though.

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Good for you is congratulatory for self achivement, good on you is praise for doing something charitable or an act of kindness.

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