Grammar How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine?

We at GrammarBook strive to cover both current and established topics of relevance to you, our dedicated band of careful writers and grammarians.

Periodically we still receive inquiries about when we should use the adjectives good, well, and fine. We, perhaps as you do, also still hear and read these words used incorrectly.

We addressed the subject of Good vs. Well in a previous article. We thought now would be a good time to review the state of these words, especially now that fine has joined the group.

We’ll first address what each word is made to convey.


Good is an adjective meaning “pious or virtuous” (a good person); “satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree” (a good baseball player); “excellent, proper, or fit” (a good professional background for the job); “well-behaved” (a good child in regard to manners); “kind or beneficent” (a good thing to do); and “worthy or honorable” (of good standing in the community).


Well is most often regarded as an adverb modifying an action. Meanings can include “in a good or satisfactory manner” (He does his job well); “thoroughly or carefully” (We listened to her well); “in a moral or proper manner” (She conducts herself well); “commendably or excellently” (I’d refer to your job as one well done); “with justice or reason” (I couldn’t well turn away the child in need); “adequately and sufficiently” (Prepare well before your exam); and “to a considerable extent or degree” (They spent well over the budget).

However, well can also serve as an adjective: “in good health; sound in body and mind” (He is a well man because of his exercise); “pleasing or good” (All is well with her); “fitting or gratifying” (I think it’s all the more well he didn’t join the debate); “in a satisfactory position; well-off” (He is well as he is). 


Fine likewise can function as either an adverb or an adjective.

As an adjective, it can mean “of high or superior quality” (a fine wine); “excellent or admirable” (a fine song); “consisting of minute particles” (fine grains of sand); “very thin or slender” (fine hair); “keen or sharp, as a tool” (a fine knife for carving); and “delicate in texture” (fine bed and bath linens).

As an adverb, fine can mean “in an excellent manner” (She performed fine on the test) and “very small” (He writes so fine I need glasses to read his letters).

Note that current usage and dictionaries allow fine to serve as finely; as adverbs, they are synonymous and interchangeable (He writes so fine/finely I need glasses to read his letters).

That’s a lot of ways we can go with three short, simple words. So which is (or are) correct in answering a basic question such as “How are you?”

This inquiry typically aims at our sense of physical or emotional well-being (i.e., our general condition). We’ll address it according to our definitions in context.

If we say “I am good,” we are conveying we are virtuous, satisfactory, proper, kind, worthy, or well behaved.

If we respond “I am well,” we are often saying we are in good health, of sound body and mind, or well-off in general. If we slightly adjust our response to “I am doing well,” we can also mean we are conducting ourselves in a good or proper manner; thoroughly, carefully, adequately, or commendably; or with justice or reason.

How about if we say “I am fine”? The dictionary dictates we’re communicating we are excellent, admirable, or of high quality if answering in adjective form. If responding adverbially, we’re saying we are existing in an excellent manner.

Interpreting the original question as applying to our general condition, we can deduce that “I am well” and “I am fine” would be suitable, accurate answers by their definitions.

The same would apply if the question were cast as “How are you doing?” If we respond “I am doing good,” in spoken language, many people will understand what we mean. However, technically, we also could be implying we’re doing something beneficial. This is where writing allows us to be even more precise by using “I am fine” or “I am well.”

The debate will carry on in common usage and stylebooks. The AP Stylebook, for example, advises that good should not be used as an adverb except in a sentence such as “I am [or feel] good,” in which case we can be saying we are in good health. It also explains that using the adverb well in “I feel well” could mean either “I feel in good health” or “My sense of touch is good,” in essence suggesting feel can muddy meaning. 

Goodwell, and fine will remain interchanging parts in language—especially spoken—including as answers to “How are you?” For the careful writer and astute grammarian, however, we champion using the words as the dictionary designs them to be.


Pop Quiz

Based on our current discussion, choose the word that best suits the context. Note that each statement can have more than one correct answer.

1) She is a (good / well / fine) person.

2) Jack does his job (good / well / fine).

3) That is a (good / well / fine) make of car.

4) They say that exercise and a good diet can make a person (good / well / fine).

5) The citizens think (good / well / fine) of the village board’s trustees.


Pop Quiz Answers

1) She is a (good / well / fine) person.
Any one of the adjectival descriptors can serve the sentence depending on the communicator’s intent. “She” could be pious, virtuous, kind, or beneficent (good); sound in body and mind or well-off/in a satisfactory position (well); or excellent, admirable, or of high or superior quality (fine).

2) Jack does his job (well).
Jack does his job thoroughly, carefully, commendably, excellently, or in a good or satisfactory manner; we would therefore use well as an adverb describing how he performs at work.

3) That is a (good / fine) make of car.
The make of car is satisfactory in quality (good) or excellent, admirable, of high or superiority quality (fine); either adjective will suffice.

4) They say that exercise and a good diet can make a person (well).
Here we want to say exercise and a good diet lead to a person becoming in good health or of sound body and mind; we would then use well as an adjective.

5) The citizens think (well) of the village board’s trustees.
We’re aiming to convey how the citizens think of the board and so need an adverb. The citizens think commendably or excellently of it, making well the word of choice.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

10 responses to “How Are You—Good, Well, or Fine?”

  1. Dinah Rogers says:

    There is another annoying if not downright incorrect use of “well” that is spoken and appears in text within certain communities. It is used as an adverb to modify a certain kind of verb. At first it just seems superfluous. But it’s more than that. Example: My husband loves our children well. The addition of “well” is meant to add the characteristics of (perhaps) skill, creativity, commitment—something that sets his love apart from the masses of other dads’ mundane love for their kids. When my dad passed away, a friend sent this message: Grieve well, my friend. The admonition is to do a good job of it—not mere sobbing but with significance, with heart and soul. I guess.
    The use with this connotation is applied only to abstract or romantic verbs—love, serve, live, dream, worship—not everyday actions such as cook, drive, plant, clean, study. This is my first analysis of this trend and it’s difficult to pinpoint the nuances.
    What is your take on this quirky use of “well”?

    • says:

      These uses of the word well are grammatically correct as the word is being used to modify verbs. We have heard it in many contexts. For instance, Crosby, Stills, and Nash used it twice in their song “Teach Your Children,” when they sang “Teach your children well” and later in the song “Teach your parents well.”

  2. Miriam J. says:

    Nice. However, paragraph 12, “There’s alot of ways”. Should this not be, “There Re alot of ways”? (There are ways).

    • says:

      The sentence you’re referring to was written as “That’s a lot of ways we can go with three short, simple words.” In this context, the sentence subject is “That,” a singular demonstrative pronoun that takes a singular verb, in this case “is,” a linking verb. The subject complement is then “lot,” another noun that completes the meaning of the verb by naming or referring to the subject. The sentence is thus grammatically sound.

  3. Pat Kennedy says:

    Very very interesting! I usually feel quite curious when someone replies “well” to my question, “How are you?” I feel as if this is a polite but noncommittal response. For me, I would prefer a good, or if the case is such, oh, not so good.
    In “my” opinion, if I did not want to know, I would not ask. Unfortunately, not everyone answers truthfully, do they? I do not expect up this up front answer of new acquaintances, but friends, yes. Indeed, I do want to know. I have a person who answers like that and I never feel a warm fuzzy with that reply. I have known her for over 25 years! Does anyone else feel this way?

    • says:

      Hi, Pat, how are you?
      The fact is that greetings are most often a way of simply acknowledging one another, getting over initial awkwardness perhaps, and starting a conversation. For many (if not most) people, the greeting isn’t really meant to be answered truthfully; it’s just a greeting. One of our staff who served in the Peace Corps in Malaysia explains that the Malay common greeting loosely translated to:
      Person 1 – Have you eaten yet?
      Person 2 – Yes, I have.
      The greeting and response never varied whether anyone had recently eaten or not. It was just a formality or courtesy.

      We’re not advice columnists, but in your case, if you are truly interested in a person’s welfare, you might try varying the wording or emphasis. Maybe “How ARE you doing?” Or “How are you doing; I really am interested,” or injecting this further into the conversation if some people are uncomfortable jumping right into the subject in an honest way.

  4. Stv says:

    Any other words I might use for the daily email asking of my health/status during these trying times?

  5. Yaz says:

    Someone said the answer to “how are you” should be “good.” If you say “fine,” you mean you are angry.

    • says:

      Not in this case. Sometimes “Fine!” can be a sarcastic response indicating that a person did not get the answer desired from another person but is begrudgingly willing to go along with the decision. For instance:
      Person 1: I’d like to have dinner in a fine restaurant tonight.
      Person 2: I’m not in the mood. I’d just like to stay home and heat up a pizza.
      Person 1: Fine!

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *