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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 2007. 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.
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
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).
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
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.
Good, well, 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.
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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
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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
5) The citizens think (well) of the village board’s
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.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.