Good vs. Well, Bad vs. Badly?

One of the challenges in correct grammar and communication is the appropriate use of adjectives and adverbs, such as good vs. well and bad vs. badly. When  writing  an email or greeting someone, what sounds more common or widely-used may not always be the correct choice.

Take this quiz. Which should you say?


a.  I am well.

b.  I am good.


a.  I don’t feel good.

b.  I don’t feel well.


a.  I hope all is well with you.

b.  I hope all is good with you.


a. Things are going good.

b. Things are going well.


a.  You look well.

b.  You look good.

If you say “you look well” that means you see well possibly due to eyeglasses.  When you are referring to appearance or emotional state, you must use an adjective (good). However, here is a caveat: when referring to physical health, we use the adjective “well”. Check out Data.Grammar

The same holds true for “bad” and “badly.”  Do you feel badly or do you feel bad?  If you feel badly, you are referring to how you feel with your fingertips.  You may feel badly if you have calluses or band aids on your fingertips. Otherwise you feel bad.

Do you look badly or look bad?  Unless you are referring to scratched or dirty eyeglasses, you look bad. (Although, I’d rather just say, “I can’t see through these dirty lenses!”)

Do you smell good or bad or do you smell well or badly? You smell good if you are wearing cologne or took a shower and you smell bad if you have body odor.  However, you smell badly if you have a cold.

With verbs that refer to senses, you either look good or bad, you either feel good, well, or bad, and you can even smell good or bad. The meaning is quite different if you use the adverbs, well or badly.

Now, don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this before.  Don’t you feel good about this clarification?

Contact Successfully Speaking to learn how to achieve excellence in communication.


1. A or B    If you are talking about health, A; if emotional state, B.

2. B

3. A or B   Well can also be used as an adjective in this case

4. B

5. A, if you are talking about health; B, if alluding to emotional state or physical appearance.