Emma doesn’t get it because she isn’t from the Deep South, like me, where we’d just as soon do away with the word, live a life in which well never existed. Instead, she comes from the-Queen’s-English England, where people readily use well as an adverb, which, yes, is correct, but not when done so as a synonym for very, as seen in specimen such as, “That’s well good, mate.” However, as presumably good teachers, international agents of well-spoken English, we strive to do use our words good well and to be well very good examples, and so should you.
So, here we go, once again, this time without the tisking of a mother, grandma, or teacher, who probably corrected your error without any further explanation. The initial breakdown is as such, simply: Good is an adjective, as you may recall, whereas well is an adverb. Adjectives are used to describe nouns, i.e. people, places, and things. Adverbs, the trickier of the two parts of speech, can be used to describe verbs (as the name suggests) but, also, frequently accentuate adjectives or other adverbs.
For good, there are essentially two options. The easier option is when the adjective good precedes the noun its modifying, such as in that makes good sense or I have a good comprehension of what that means. Things get a tiny bit stickier when good doesn’t sit next to its noun like a good, little adjective but goes off gallivanting with a copular verb. Don’t get too concerned: A copular verb has nothing to do with copulation. Copular verbs are verbs that aren’t necessarily actions, like look or seem or feel, but rather link a subject to an idea.
So, let’s use the first of our three examples to further explain the copular verb-good combo pack: Look. There, of course, is look the action, like I looked at the hot chic over there, in which the “I” is looking; however, there is look the copulae, as seen in The chic over there looks hot, in which “the chic” isn’t doing or looking at all but is merely alluring to those who are. In the later case, we’d use good: That chic looks good. That chic looks well would be commenting on her ability to see or find things rather than her sultry appearance*.
*As with all English grammar, there is the exception: Well can be used as an adjective when referring to health, such as I don’t feel well, meaning I am sick. So, in actuality, That chic looks well would more likely be mistaken as commenting on her medical situation, as if perhaps she’d recently been ill.
So, that brings us to well, which can get a bit problematic due to its friendlier nature, that willingness to jump in the sack with both verbs and adjectives. (Luckily, and this is no homophobic slander, this adverb doesn’t bunk up with its own kind. That’s only for word sluts like very and really, as in He moved on to the next point very slowly.) The verb seems easy enough: If there is an action happening, we use well. Perhaps the hot chic struts her stuff well, which is what makes her hot, or I can’t see her well, so let’s get closer.
In the case of the well-adjective marriage, it’s usually hyphenated or a very familiar combination: This expression is well-known. To further expound, consider the example A well-endowed widower makes a good friend. It seems a bit counter to previous statements in this week’s blog because well seems part of the description of widower, which is certainly a person and, therefore, a noun. However, it is important to realize that, in this case, well is describing the adjective “endowed” and not widower, who, if poorly endowed, might not be as good a friend.
This most common mistake, at least for Americans, probably occurs when we do something good or can’t do something good, or we are asked how we are doing and respond with I’m doing good. Technically, in this instance, we are reporting being in the midst of doing good (deeds), as if we involved with some charitable act, say, helping an old lady cross the street. It’s more likely that we feel good and are doing well. It’s so fussy and minute, I know, but this is the very thing that teachers and moms and so on were so keen to correct not so long ago. I remember it well.
Well, that just about sums it up. Go forth, be well (in good health), and please be good (I’m not exactly sure what this good means—Well-behaved? Ethically sound? Talented? —Oh, damn.)