“I’m Good” Versus “I’m Well”

The dilemma debunked

If you are like many people, you might struggle with how to respond to the following question: how are you? If you have ever answered “I’m good,” you probably received a reproachful look or correction from the person asking the question. It is a common misconception that this response is grammatically incorrect because “good” is viewed as an adjective, and adjectives do not modify verbs. However, “I’m good” is as grammatically correct as responding “I’m well.” The reason is found by examining the verb in the statement and the meaning of both “good” and “well.”

Definitions from the Oxford English dictionary

  • Definition of good (adjective): such as should be desired or approved, right, satisfactory; sound, unimpaired; not depressed or dejected.
  • Definition of well (adjective): in good health; free or recovered from illness; in a satisfactory state or position.

From the above definitions you can see why the belief that “I’m good” is incorrect. According to this belief, “good” is an adjective and can therefore not modify the verb “am” (since I’m = I am). However, this would mean that “I’m well” is also incorrect, since the adjective definition of “well” is the intended meaning behind the response.

Verb usage

Understanding the type of verb used in the response is what lies behind proving both are correct. It is true that adjectives do not modify verbs. However, there is more than one type of verb, each with different functions. A linking verb connects the subject of the sentence to the subject complement and describes the noun in the subject. Linking verbs consist of “state of being” verbs, also called “to be” verbs. “Am” is a linking verb, and as such, it connects the subject of the sentence (“I” – or you when you are giving the response) to the adjective complement (good, well) in both “I’m good” and “I’m well.” Therefore, the adjectives are not trying to modify the verb “am.”

Something to consider

While you can safely answer with either response and maintain your grammatical correctness, you might want to consider the manner in which and the applicable situations in which the question (How are you?) is asked. If someone is clearly inquiring about your health, use “I’m well,” as this is the accepted way to respond. If it is clear you are in good health, feel free to use either response, as both are correct; although some people prefer to use “well” in more formal situations.

One important thing to note is that when you are writing, the use of “good” and “well” differs from the way these words are used in the responses examined here. “Well” also functions as an adverb, so when there is an action verb involved, this is the correct choice for modifying the verb. Likewise, “good” cannot modify the action verb; “good” is used to modify a noun, noun phrase or pronoun. Consider the following examples:

Incorrect: The dancer was performing good. (“Good” is an adjective and cannot modify the verb “was performing.)

Correct: The good dancer was performing well. (“Good” modifies the noun, “dancer,” and “well” is an adverb that modifies the verb, “was performing.”)