Commonly Confused Word Pairs: Good/well

April 11, 2002: Issue 18

SIM STYLE: Should I capitalize words that Webster’s 11th notes as “often cap”?
Yes, almost always.* And lowercase words Web notes as “often not cap” or “not cap.” It’s important to read the definitions, however; capitalization rules often apply only in certain usages.
• Check out “Down East” and “Jacquard” for examples of “often cap words.
• Check out “Shetland” and “Spartan” for “often not cap” examples that depend on usage.

*Two notable exceptions: We do not cap “mecca” or “nirvana” when used generically.

For more information see Issue 48.

GRAMMAR: Didn’t James Brown mean to sing “I feel well”?
Nope. He meant “I feel good,” and rightly so. Saying that you feel well may seem grammatically correct, but it’s right only if you mean there’s nothing wrong with your sense of touch. If all is right in your world, you’re feeling good. If you’re sick or in a sour mood, you’re not feeling good (unless your fingertips are also numb, but let’s not muddy the waters).

Why? When you describe a state of being—not an action—the adjective (good), not the adverb (well), is correct. If that doesn’t quite make sense, try substituting another adjective for “good”: I feel sleepy (not sleepily); I feel happy (not happily).

Got it? Good, because this next part can be confusing. Applying the same logic, “I am good” works only if you mean to convey that you’re a good person. “I am well” is correct if you’re feeling good. Why? It’s the adjective/adverb thing again. An action is implied (“I am [doing] well”). If you get confused, just say everything is well and good and leave it at that.

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