Should you say “I’m well” or “I’m good?”
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When someone asks, “How are you?” do you ever pause and wonder whether you should say “I'm well” or “I’m good?” Even though you may know you just need to choose between the adjective (good) or adverb (well) form, the word “well” hides a little secret that causes confusion.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Adjectives modify nouns, subjects, and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. See the examples in the boxes below:
- John is a strong athlete.
( adjective: strong; noun: athlete)
- The black dog ran across the street.
(adjective: black; noun: dog)
- The acerbic old professor failed all students in the class.
(adjectives: acerbic, old; noun: professor)
Note. Notice in the examples below that the adjectives connect to the subjects they modify by using a linking verb.
- John is strong.
(adjective: strong; subject: John)
- This book is outdated.
(adjective: outdated; subject: this book)
- The students looked upset about the results of their exams.
(adjective: upset; subject: the students)
Note. Notice in the examples below that the adjectives connect to the pronouns they modify by using a linking verb.
- He is strong.
(adjective: strong; subject: he)
- It is outdated.
(adjective: outdated; subject: it)
- They looked upset about the results of their exams.
(adjective: upset; subject: they)
- John works carefully.
(adverb: carefully; verb: works)
- Please walk quickly.
- The supervisor reprimanded to the employees firmly.
(adverb: firmly; verb: reprimanded)
- Mary sang the National Anthem beautifully.
(adverb: beautifully; verb: sang)
- The situation was painfully embarrassing for everyone.
(adverb: painfully; adjective: embarrassing)
- The problem was extremely complicated.
(adverb: extremely; adjective: complicated)
- To be brutally honest with you, I hate your new clothes.
(adverb: brutally; adjective: honest)
Back to “I’m Well” and “I’m Good”
Given the grammar rules for adjectives and adverbs, you would say that “I'm good” is the grammatically correct reply to “How are you?” You need an adjective to modify the pronoun (I), so that settles it, right?
However, “well” can also be an adjective with two specific meanings:
- In good health; sound of body and mind (e.g., I don’t feel well).
- In order; in working order (e.g., Everything is well).
Therefore, both are correct though they have nuanced meanings:
- With “I’m well,” you describe your wellbeing and state of mind.
- With “I’m good,” you describe your current conditions or life situation..
Learn about linking verbs followed by adjectives.
Learn when adjectives replace adverbs in idiomatic usage.
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Grammar and Style List