As any grammar handbook, English teacher, or parent correcting a child will tell you, you're supposed to say "I don't feel well" instead of "I don't feel good." Well rather than good seems to be used with other linking verbs, too (e.g., "Are you well?"). However, the rule for other words is that adjectives, not adverbs, are used with linking verbs. We say "I feel sad," not "I feel sadly," and "He feels tired," not "He feels tiredly." So why is well, an adverb, preferred over good, an adjective, when used with linking verbs? What makes good/well the exception?

  • 1
    How about: "I feel good" means I don't feel like getting into mischief. And "I feel well" means my sense of touch is superb. But you can see either one of these when you mean the state of your health.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 14:50
  • Or "that feels good".
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 15:04
  • I'm not asking when to use "well" or "good." My question is why "well" is used with linking verbs, which is not addressed in the question you linked to or its answers.
    – Nicole
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 22:17
  • If you say "I'm doing good", I'd have to correct you and reply "Uh-uh. Superman does good. You're doing well." They are different words with subtly different definitions. That's why.
    – user39425
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 1:52
  • 1
    This is hardly a duplicate of that question; the opening of this question could be given as an answer to that one.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 23:45

5 Answers 5


So why is well, an adverb, preferred over good, an adjective, when used with linking verbs?

It's well as an adjective that is preferred over good as an adjective.

Though that well is also an adverb is a factor in two ways.

The first is that since good is sometimes used as an adverb, and this sense is considered incorrect, some of the cases where good should be corrected to well is one of those cases:

*I didn't play good.

The other is that the adjective sense of well grew out of the adverbial sense.

This adjective sense well is more specifically about health and well being, but it probably does originate in an adverbial sense whereby the Old English "ic eom swiðe wel" which word-to-word translates as "I am very-much well" was likely first understood as an adverb modifying the verb am in the existential sense (a bit like "I exist" so "I am existing very well").

Conversely the opposing adverb evil of ic wæs swiðe yfle meant the opposite ("I was very-much evil" meaning you aren't doing so good at being, because you are sick or otherwise beset with misfortune).

The well of this "I am very-much well" then came to be understood as an adjective, giving us the adjective form of well ("I am well" being hence comparable in structure to "I am tall"). The adverb form of evil meanwhile largely died out except perhaps in the expression "speak evil of him".

The other adverbial meanings of well did not become adjectives in the same way ("He is very well at science" is not generally accepted, though "He is very good at science" or "He is doing very well at science" are).

Now, it's perfectly logical to say "I don't feel good" etc., but since well is more specifically about health, that is the form that people keep using for that context, and "I don't feel good" hence sounds wrong to many people.

Not to everyone, and some would see nothing wrong with "I don't feel good" or think it wrong but use it anyway and "I don't feel so good" seems even more reasonable.

When it comes to comparing "I am well" to "I am good" the value of keeping to well for matters of health is more apparent; "I am good" could refer to moral or other qualities while "I am well" is immediately understood as referring to well-being.

So with "I am well/good" there's definitely a strong value in choosing well. With "oh, I really don't feel too well/good" the value is weaker and opinions will begin to differ; sticklers for rules insisting on well to be consistent with everything else as well as because that's a sort of use the word came to us serving, while others would just consider it understandable, logical, and clear.


Well is an adjective.

well adjective (better, best)

  1. In good health; free or recovered from illness


It just happens to have the same form as the adverb of good; and its comparative/superlative forms happen to be the same too. But it's an adjective.

  • Doesn't being an adjective imply that it can modify a noun? If so, can you give an example of well modifying a noun? A well person? Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 14:54
  • 3
    Yes. I am a well man. Or, from that ODO link, "I am not a well man."
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 14:55
  • 1
    I think you've got that adjective/adverb business the wrong way round! So far as I'm concerned it's something of a spurious/pedantic distinction anyway, but I wouldn't argue with Rule 3. The word good is an adjective, whose adverb equivalent is well. Clearly illustrated in that grammarbook.com link by You did a good job vs You did the job well. Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 15:10
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    I don't argue with Rule 3. But that is different from using well as a real, out-and-out adjective (as here), as described and demonstrated by a reputable dictionary.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 15:14
  • @Andrew: Well (sorry! :) all I meant was that when people do make this adverb/adjective distinction, it's always in accordance with that Rule 3. I'm inclined to think the question should be on ELL rather than ELU (and it's probably a duplicate here anyway), but for OP (and any future visitors at that level) it might be better to continue your first sentence with something like "...in this specific context, although it's more often an adverb in other contexts." Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 17:06

Just to expand upon Andrew's answer, which I upvoted, the following are all legitimate, grammatical uses of well/good. (I started to put these in a comment but it got too elaborate for the medium.)

I feel well. [I am not sick.]

I feel good. [I am feeling buoyant or optimistic.]

I feel ill. [I am sick.]

I feel bad. [I am sick or I have a negative feeling about some circumstance or condition.]

I feel good about that. [I have a favorable view toward the thing in question.]

I feel bad about that. [I have a negative feeling toward the thing in question.]

Note that in the last case you often hear people say "I feel badly about that," possibly because they think that they need an adverb when they actually need an adjective. To "feel badly" about something would actually mean to perform the function of feeling in a substandard way.

  • 1
    The idea that a verb can't have any kind of adjective complement is a common superstition. I hear people say that "Get home safe!" is incorrect and should be "Get home safely!", even though they would never say "This candy tastes sweetly" or "I can't believe the priest showed up to that wedding drunkenly".
    – Nails N.
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 16:42

Good is usually an adjective (a good book, a good job).

Good can be used with copular verbs (such as to be, to seem, and to appear), but it is still an adjective modifying a noun, not a verb.

  • This movie is good
  • His ideas are good

Well can be used as an adjective to mean "in good health."

If you want to describe an action verb, you use an adverb like well.

  • He runs well
  • They swim well.

Other examples:

Well (adj.)•I’m well

good (adj.)•I’m good

good (adv.) •I’m doing good


“Good” is an adjective, “well” is an adverb. When there is a linking verb the word becomes a predicate adjective. "I feel well" means my sense of touch is good, thus well is used to modify the verb feel. However, when you feel good as in health, you are referring to the subject so it becomes a predicate adjective.

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