Is anyone aware of a rule behind which nouns can be combined with a preceding "a good" to become an adjectival phrase. For example "He's a good shot" meaning he has good aim. How many more examples of this construction can EL&U think of?

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    should not be closed, imo: it seeks to explore a common figure of speech, not to mention that I just spent 40 minutes writing an answer :-) – Pete Wilson Apr 12 '11 at 18:19
  • I also don't really understand why this was closed. It was a genuine question and I got a good answer. – jsj Apr 13 '11 at 1:07

Disclaimer: Most of this is rambling and thinking in type.

The over-arching principle here is a transformation from:

He shoots well


He is a good shot

Obviously these variations don't work well:

He is a shot

He is a good run

The problem with "run" seems to be that it is a continuous activity. Discrete actions seem to fit much better:

He is a good poke

He is a good steal

He is a good sell

He is a good kiss

These don't seem to mean anything in particular but they don't sound funny to me. But lots of examples suddenly appear when we use "has" instead of "is":

He has a good jump

He has a good run

He has a good shot

The possession of "a good [verb]" again implies "he [verb]s well." Why some verbs get to see the form "he is a good" instead of "he has a good" is not clear to me. The form "he is a good shooter" makes perfect sense; why "shot" gets to have both may simply be idiomatic.

The examples I can find for "he is a good [verb]" can all be rearranged as "he has a good [verb]" and "he is a good [verb]er". The opposite is untrue: You cannot automatically take "he is a good [verb]er" or "he has a good [verb]" and make "he is a good [verb]".


I think it has to do more with development of idioms rather than any grammatical rule.

As for examples, only one that comes to mind at the moment is the risque "a good lay" and some more vulgar variants.

  • a Good Thing, a good fit, many many of these – mplungjan Apr 12 '11 at 14:39
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    I also think there's not really a 'general rule' to generate these idiomatic expressions. Outside of this discussion, for example, I doubt anyone would understand Kevin's a good answer to mean you habitually give good answers. If anything, it might be taken to mean there's an ongoing unresolved issue of who should do something, and Kevin's name is being put forward. No implication that the task being allocated is in fact to provide answers. – FumbleFingers Apr 12 '11 at 14:54
  • @mplungjan, "a good thing" doesn't work here because "thing" isn't a form of a verb. "A good fit", however, is a good fit. – Kevin Apr 12 '11 at 15:15
  • Notice the casing though :) Good Thing – mplungjan Apr 12 '11 at 16:46
  • @mplungjan sorry, you have completely lost me. – Kevin Apr 12 '11 at 18:25

This is probably too open-ended of a question. "A good X" is possible for nearly any noun where the noun stands for a skill, profession, sports person, etc.: (painter, writer, goalie, resp.).

Any verb that can take "-er" is thinkable here. "A good runner, climber, dealer," etc.

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    But you you wouldn't say "He's a good run" instead of "He's a good runner" like you would with "a good shot" vs "a good shooter" – Kevin Apr 12 '11 at 15:14
  • Ah, now I see the question more clearly. Thanks - yes you're right. – The Raven Apr 12 '11 at 15:27

A good deal: a rewarding exchange of goods/services/cash from the buyer's or the seller's POV, as "Oh, Man! I just made a wicked1 good deal on that 1996 Toyota I've been [ yearning for | trying to unload]," as the new owner or the poor struggling salesman might say. "I took that sucker right to the cleaners!2 Pissah!"3

A good deal: a not-insignificant amount, as "I [sic] already dumped a good deal o' cash on that POS Toyota!" or "I spent a good deal o' time dumping that POS Toyota."

A good deal: some better-than-mediocre pine lumber; Oliver Twist might say "At least this refectory table's made of a good deal. Maybe just a nibble ..."

A good deal: my opponent's poker hand.

1 wicked: pissah (South Boston only)
2 to take to the cleaners: to extract the last possible sou from
3 pissah: wicked (q.v.)

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