I am an Italian student and I am writing a thesis comparing our two languages. I am aware of the fact that you don't say "good job" or "good work", in order to wish someone the best in his/her job. I'd like to know if there is any sociological or sociolinguistic explication for that. In addition, are there any references to find out more?

Clarifying explanation from Davide Loi:

To better explain to people who don't speak Italian the reason why Ale asked this, here is the fact: in Italian, when someone is about to do something, some work, or a specific task, we say "buon lavoro" BEFORE the job/task has been done. The meaning is "I wish you that you can do a good work".

  • 1
    One often says 'Good Job!' -after- a task has been done. 'Good work' just isn't used. 'Good Luck' is before a task. The sociological reason is the usual: 'Because that's just what you say in English'
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 12:46
  • 10
    I do say 'Good Work' in English after a task has been completed.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 19:18
  • 5
    @Mitch I say good work all the time.
    – David M
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 23:59
  • @DavidM, Oldcat: Oh? Before or after the thing you're referring to? What do you mean when you say that? It sounds really strange to me (AmE).
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 0:23
  • 6
    @Mitch After. As in, "Hey, good work on the Komiskey account last week!" It's the same context as nice work. (AmE, too).
    – David M
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 0:25

4 Answers 4


We say "good luck" when we tell somebody we hope they do well in the future.

Both "good job" and "good work" refer to the past (that is, we're saying we approve of what someone has already done).

It's just a matter of specific phrases being linked to the past or future to help with disambiguation. I don't imagine there's any deep sociological reason behind it...


Using good on its own as a modifier is tricky in English.

For example: Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening are typically used to say "hello". But, good day and good night are typically used to say "goodbye". (Dialectally good night can be used to say hello. The others are occasionally used in the opposite contexts, as well.) All these greetings represent an abbreviation of the now obsolete God give you a good day (afternoon, etc.) , which dates from about 1200.

Good luck is a shortening of I wish you good luck. (Buona fortuna o Tanti auguri)

Good job and good work would translate to bel lavoro or bel colpo. Not magari di un buon lavoro.

So, unfortunately, I think this is a case where you will just have to learn the idiomatic usage of good.


Although we would say "Happy birthday" to mean "(Have a) happy birthday" or "Merry Christmas" for "(Have a) merry Christmas", we would not use "good job" or "good work" the same way. "Have a good job/work" just doesn't work, whereas "(Have) good luck with your new job" or "Have a good time at work" are fine (but "Good time!" is not okay!).

"Good job" and "Good work" are "(You have done a) good job" or "(You have done) good work".


I believe what Italians refer to by wishing someone good work can be generally translated to English as ...have a nice day..... or something like that. Good job or good work is to compliment/encourage someone of a job well done.

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