How am I? Well, that depends
October 9, 2011 5:57 PM   Subscribe

So am I good or well?

OK, I have often heard that a properly formed answer to the question "How are you?" is "I'm well." But I have also heard a (somewhat) convincing argument that it is also correct to say "I'm good." So mefites, which is it? And is this a US/UK divide?
posted by anemone to Writing & Language (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You are good at (insert task or skill here). Your state of being is well.

(Western US.)
posted by mollymayhem at 6:01 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Well" means "not sick". It is also the adverb form of "good".

So either is fine, but they mean slightly different things.
posted by supercres at 6:05 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Both are pretty much correct and will be understood to mean approximately the same thing. (US)

If it helps to think about, there's another implied verb in those sentences. You're really saying, "I'm feeling/doing well" or "I'm feeling/doing good." To my ear "well" does refer a little to health and "good" a little more to mood, but the meaning is approximately the same.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:08 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're well, therefore "It's all good."
posted by hermitosis at 6:09 PM on October 9, 2011

In a formal situation, say "I'm well," but for informal conversations, it would probably be more appropriate to say "I'm good." (This is perhaps not what an English textbook would say, but for talking with people in everyday life, it will go over better.)
posted by melangell at 6:09 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

'I'm good' seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK, in informal settings at least, though I have heard some criticism of this usage. I say it, but some people seem to find it quite annoying.

'I'm (very) well, (thank you)' is the more traditional/formal response in the UK.
posted by Chairboy at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

mollymayhem basically describes the traditional use, but colloquial use often has 'good' used as an adverb (for example "he's doing good" vs. "he's doing well", pretty much equivalent other than a difference in register).

Like most language usage issues, which it is depends less on what some abstract sense of "correct" language vs. "incorrect" language would dictate, and more on how much you care about maintaining a distinction that a good number of people don't anymore. In some cases it may be appropriate and advantageous to maintain it (formal situations and writing, I would think), but in casual conversation I don't think it matters. I actually notice when someone says "I'm well" in response to "how are you?" in casual conversation, as it sounds a little odd and affected to my ears. But as always with language--YMMV.

Can't speak to UK usage, where it may be perceived differently. But this has been true in all of the parts of the US I've lived in, as far as I've ever noticed.
posted by Kosh at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I say "I'm doing well," to stave off nitpickers.

But I don't see the point in fighting against "I'm good." The weather's state of being is nearly ubiquitously referred to as good. I never heard anyone say "The weather sure is well today." If you ignore popular usage as a factor in the evolution of language, you will find yes, it is grammatically suspect. But hoo doggie, a shitload of people say it. Lots and lots and lots. I know it isn't correct either, but I say it all the time. Because people know exactly what you mean by it.

If, when you ask someone how they are doing they give you an answer you honestly can't make heads or tails of, you should question them further. However, if someone says "I'm good!" or even "I'm doing good," you know exactly what they mean so let it go.
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:20 PM on October 9, 2011

I think of "I'm well" as more 'guarded' and more true than I'm good. It's like that line Moe said in one episode of the Simpsons - "I'm a well-wisher, in that I don't wish you any specific harm". "I'm well" means I'm not sick, you don't have to worry about me, and you shouldn't ask further. "I'm good" is more polite and affirmative - I am actively healthy and fine.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:22 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I'm well" is grammatically correct. "I'm good" is in this context grammatically hinky (unless you mean to state that you are morally righteous) but is so commonly used to mean "I'm well" that fighting it is a losing battle.
posted by collectallfour at 6:27 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am good and also doing well.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:29 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was in Scotland: I'm well, thanks.
Now I'm in Canada: I'm good.
posted by scruss at 6:30 PM on October 9, 2011

I'm doing well. In addition, I'm good in the same way that the weather is "good"-- i.e. nothing to complain about.
posted by supercres at 6:32 PM on October 9, 2011

This is I'm sure a grammatical reification on my part, but I've always thought of "how are you?" as operating in the same mode as the question "how is your food?". In both cases you could naively parse them as asking in what manner the object in question is performing the task of existing, but realistically both questions are asking for a descriptor of your current state, which obviously takes the form of an adjective. I mostly invented this argument to counter grammar snobs, because it's a quicker way of making them feel wrong than arguing about prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.
posted by invitapriore at 6:46 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says that both "good" and "well" have had a long tradition of being used this way (i.e. as a predicate adjective) in English. It obliquely refers to the insistence on "well" amongst certain people by saying "Some surprising assertions have been made". It attempts to track down where the idea that "well" is "correct" and "good" is "incorrect" came from, and gets as far as some guy named Vizetelly back in 1906. "We do not know where Vizetelly got the idea", it then says.

It then goes on to suggest that well in this usage denotes physical health, whereas good can as well, but also can denote other things, such as good spirits.
posted by Flunkie at 6:50 PM on October 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Additionally, it indicates that that distinction between "health" and "health and/or other things" seems to have arisen, at least in part, due to the years of disagreement over whether good is somehow "incorrect" or not.
posted by Flunkie at 7:03 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A word means what enough people say it means. That's good enough for dictionary editors, but somehow it's not good enough for people who think they know what's "right."

"Ain't" is also very much in the dictionary (a fact that recently amazed my third-grade niece).

Imagine James Brown singing "I Feel Well."
posted by Camofrog at 7:03 PM on October 9, 2011

Have you heard the joke that people use to correct others when they say "I am doing good"? They say, "Good is what superman does. You are doing well."

Like many above have said, using "I'm well" is more formal/health oriented, and
I'm good" can mean overall things are ok with you, not just health-wise. I use both "I'm well" and "I'm good," but I never use "I'm doing good." "Well" is the adverb that describes doing, "good" is the adjective that describes the noun (you).

Hope that this answer is good and has informed you well.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2011

"Well" is the adverb that describes doing, "good" is the adjective that describes the noun (you).
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage also takes issue with this assertion. Both "well" and "good", it says, have long been used adverbially, although it notes that "good" is primarily used adverbially in speech.

It refers to the idea that only "well" can be used adverbially as "schoolmasterly insistence", which, if I know my MWDEU-speak, means "without basis".
posted by Flunkie at 7:23 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I'm good" = "I am a good person"
"I'm well" = "I'm doing/feeling well"

"I'm good" is grammatically incorrect but is so common that most people don't notice it anymore. But, you never know who is going to turn out to be a stickler, so if you want to impress, stick to "well."
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:28 PM on October 9, 2011

Good is a boast. Well is a statement of fact.
posted by jet_silver at 7:35 PM on October 9, 2011

"Well" is more grammatically correct. People say "good" much more often.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:43 PM on October 9, 2011

If some asks me, explicitly, how I am doing, I say well. If someone asks me how am I, I say good. If i'm feeling more honest, when asked "how are you" I will say well-enough, or good enough, depending on the verb in the question, or occasionally specrapular, regardless.
Specrapular is an adverb right?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:07 PM on October 9, 2011

It depends which question you are answering. Am is a linking verb, so it is "grammatically correct" to use the adjective good when answering the question "how are you?" with "I am good." On the other hand, if you are responding to a "how you are doing?" then use the adverb, well, as in "I am doing well."
posted by oceano at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2011

God, I know somebody like this.

"How are you?"
"I'm good. You?"
"Oh, but I didn't ask about your morality."
"So still an arsehole, then?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:45 PM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

posted by jangie at 8:50 PM on October 9, 2011

"I'm good" is also often used colloquially to mean "Thank you. You have satisfied my request/needs, and I'm not in need of any further assistance right now".

When your waitress stops by your table during your meal to ask "How are you folks doing?", "We're good." is a much better and more helpful answer than "We are well".

She's asking if you need anything else from her right then. She's not really inquiring after your health or asking for any general statements on how fulfilling your life is or isn't. Sorry if that hurts a little. ;-)
posted by marsha56 at 9:31 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Goodness me. Does no one just say they are "fine" anymore?
posted by Deathalicious at 11:11 PM on October 9, 2011

"I'm well" feels more pretentious and "I'm good" more colloquial and friendly. As in this exchange: "How are you?" "I'm good! How are you?" "I'm well." Thanks! Pat yourself on the back for your excellent grammar skills.

I'm aware that "I'm good" is grammatically incorrect but "I'm well" sounds kind of weird. I suppose if I were at a job interview I might say "I'm doing fine, thanks" to avoid having to say "I'm well."
posted by citron at 11:29 PM on October 9, 2011

You are good but you are doing well.

Good is an adjective, well is an adverb.
posted by bardic at 12:48 AM on October 10, 2011

I only hear "I'm good" in the US, and it still grates on my British ear. Over here it's unquestionably incorrect unless you're talking about what a good person you are. Your state of health is well.
posted by Decani at 3:25 AM on October 10, 2011

Oh, and yeah, I should add that we Brits don't generally say "I'm well". We'd go for the more informal "Fine, thanks" or something like that.
posted by Decani at 3:26 AM on October 10, 2011

Grammar Girl says you can say "I'm good" with confidence.

I have several people in my office who insist on saying "I'm well," 'correcting' you after you've already replied that you're good. Always sounds so self-righteous to me.
posted by Pademelon at 5:29 AM on October 10, 2011

I know a priest who once said that "I'm good" is neither grammatically nor theologically correct, but I'm more prone to agree with Flunkie, especially if you're in North America.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 6:25 AM on October 10, 2011

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