Going to the Well Once Too Often

One guy sits at the bar in his favorite watering hole. Another guy sits down next to him. After a brief exchange, it’s established that the second guy is from out of town. The first guy asks after the football team in the second guy’s home city.

The second guy says, “They’re looking really well this year,” and he lingers just enough on the word well to reveal a hint of pride at his word choice.

“That’s good,” says the first guy. “I’m glad they’re not ill.”

And then a Boy Scout, a bear, and the president enter the bar, prompting the bartender to ask, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

* * *

In the same way that people are deathly afraid of saying “you and me” in any context, whether it’s grammatically correct or not (“You and I!” your first-grade teacher scolds), people are also afraid of using good incorrectly. Unfortunately, this leads to them always replacing it with well, which of course renders them susceptible to looking foolish.

Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb. Simple enough.

Adjectives come before nouns. Adverbs hover around verbs. Got it.

Unfortunately, there is the sad case of the predicate adjective, often following “to be” verbs. Saying “He is good” indicates that someone is in high spirits or is generally in a satisfactory place in life. Saying “He is well” would indicate that the person is not sick. The confusion arises from a fear of using the adjective when the adverb is called for. Someone saying “He hits the ball good” would have made this mistake.

In addition to “to be” verbs, there are reflexive verbs such as “looking” that can also take predicate adjectives, because the action of the verb refers back to the subject: “The Bashers look good this year.”

Just between you and me, I’ve had my fill of wells this week.


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