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I was recently asked by a Japanese person why completely good was improper English, as in “This is completely good.”

As a native speaker of English (raised in northeastern America), I do feel there’s something strange about the phrase, but I can’t quite put my finger on what — after all, phrases such as very good, mostly good, perfectly good, etc. are used.

Is this in fact improper English, or, for that matter, does it depend on dialect, and if so, why?

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Perfectly good would be different than saying completely good in most contexts: perfectly good tends to be used in a hyperbolic sense, meant to signify something that's "good enough". For example, that apple is perfectly good to eat is not the same as saying that apple is completely good to eat: the apple might have some flaws, but none that would prevent it from being eaten.

Which leads to the point that you'd only want to say something is completely good when there is no chance for it to be bad. Completely good is not a good substitute for very good or really good, which merely mean that something is notably good, not entirely or absolutely good. But, the Christian God or a saint would be characterized as being completely good because they aren't even remotely evil by definition.

Finally, if you wanted to say something was good in the superlative sense, completely good would be wrong. The correct word would be best, as in that course of action is best not that course of action is completely good.

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Makes sense - Completely good felt weird because no such thing can actually exist. –  bdonlan Jan 7 '11 at 8:02
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@bdonlan I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I've only really heard people use the phrase completely good in the context of philosophical, ethical, and theological arguments where talking about mental constructs that exhibit absolute qualities is par for the course. –  user2512 Jan 7 '11 at 8:06
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I would use "completely good" if I was talking about something that was good in all its parts. A computer system, for example, would be "completely good" if it had a good CPU, good amount of RAM, good OS, good monitor, etc. I would not use "completely good" in any other context and, truth to tell, I would probably rarely use it in this context unless I wanted to be very specific. –  Robusto Jan 7 '11 at 15:14
    
I think "completely good" brings to mind the "good vs. evil" instead of "good vs. bad." So if my computer was completely good, it would probably of its own free will start helping the poor and hungry, and it might not even have the best parts. –  Xantix Sep 2 '12 at 6:24
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"Completely good" is grammatically correct. As has been said, "completely" is simply an adverb modifying "good." The phrase only sounds odd because it is not commonly used.

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It seems to me that as long as you are using good and well in their proper locations, you should be fine.

For example, good is a noun or adjective, and well is an adverb or adjective. You can say "He is good" or "He is well," but when you use a verb like "to run" then you have to say "He ran a good race" or "He ran well." See here, well is an adverb, but good is not. "He ran good" is improper English.

As long as this is observed, "completely good" should be fine.

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Thanks for the answer, but I was mostly wondering about the 'completely' part - whether it can be applied to 'good' like that. –  bdonlan Jan 7 '11 at 8:03
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