While I use "looks well" because of good being an adverb here, I mainly read "looks good" in the web.

enter image description here

I'm quite unsure about the ngrams chart, has the grammatically incorrect "looks good" simply superseded "looks well", as English became a world language? Or are there subtly (probably colloquial, slang) differences in meaning of both phrases?

  • 2
    Why do you think "looks good" is grammatically incorrect? "Good" is an adjective describing his appearance. Someone can be "happy" someone can be "good". If they look it, they either "look happy" or "look good". – David Schwartz Nov 9 '11 at 15:26

In the sentences He looks well and He looks good both well and good are adjectives, assuming looks is a copular verb, that is, one that links other elements in the clause. The structure is not Subject-Verb-Adverbial, but Subject-Verb-Complement. The first sentence normally means that he seems to be in a good state of health. The second normally means that he has a pleasing appearance. The structure, but not necessarily the meaning, is the same as that found in He is well and He is good.

If looks is not a copular verb, He looks well would mean either that he has good vision, or that he surveys his surroundings with great care. However, both of those sentences are unlikely to be expressed in that way.

  • 'looks' is really only copular. 'is looking' is active, but 'looks' would have to be interpreted -very- liberally to be considered active. – Mitch Nov 9 '11 at 21:20
  • @Mitch: That's why I said both sentences were unlikely if 'looks' is not a copular verb. – Barrie England Nov 9 '11 at 22:05

Whether either is correct depends on what you are trying to say.

If you write, "Sally looks good in her new dress", "good" is an adjective. The construction is similar to if you wrote, "The dress looks blue".

If you write, "Sally looks well", people would normally understand you to mean "well" in the sense of healthy. Again, "well" is an adjective.

You might conceivably say "Sally looks well" using "well" as an adverb to modify how she looks. In that case, you are saying that Sally is doing a good job of looking. Such a sentence might be used to describe someone who is acting as a look-out, for example. It would be a similar construct to, "Sally cooks well" or "Sally drives well". But frankly, it's a rather unlikely thing for someone to say.

A common mistake in English is to use an adjective when you should have used an adverb, like "I speak English good" when you meant to say "I speak English well." But don't be confused by this and think you should always use an adverb after a verb! "Sally looks good" is correct if the intent is to say that Sally is pretty or otherwise to be favored. (Should I clarify that "... looks good" is often used other than in the sense of personal appearance? Like, "Which of the people who applied for this job should we hire?" "I think Mr Jones looks good." The meaning is that Mr Jones looks suitable for the job, not that he is handsome.)


to look good/bad

1 to be considered a good/bad thing to do; Do you think it will look bad if I don’t go and see him?

2 to seem to be going to have a good/bad result; look good/bad for: Things aren’t looking too good for him at the moment.

Same goes for to sound good/bad. The difference is how we perceive the situation - with our sight or hearing.

  • The thing that makes this question interesting is that “well” can be either an adjective or an adverb, depending on the context.  An answer that doesn’t even mention the word “well”, and that doesn’t acknowledge that ‘‘look’’ can be modified by an adverb in some circumstances (hint: this does not occur in your post) is a bad answer. – Scott Sep 4 '18 at 2:42

Use good with the verbs look, sound, feel, taste, and smell to refer back to and describe the subject of the statement.


Looks good can be taken literally, as in the opposite of evil. This is unlikely to be applied to "well" (where it means a water source). Well means healthy, fit, or as an abbreviation of well-proportioned, well-dressed, well-presented. You cannot substitute good there. Ergo "well" is the accurate grammar, "good" a mere colloquial form.


To look good means having a pleasant outward appearance, whereas to look well means to see well, or to look closely, or maybe even simply to have good eye sight.

  • 1
    Not exactly. When someone (or something) has a good outward appearance it still is said to look well. – Philoto Nov 9 '11 at 14:51
  • 4
    'You look well' sounds more like about ones health (as though one were sick but is better now. – Mitch Nov 9 '11 at 15:06

protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 0:15

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.