“How are you?” is the question that seems to always follow a greeting. “Hi, how are you?” The non-committal answer for many is “I’m fine, thanks,” but some people will answer with “I’m good” or “I’m well.” Grammatically speaking, which is right? I’m good? Or I’m well?
If I were to ask my grandfather, The Colonel, he would say the correct answer is “I’m well” because well is an adverb and modifies verbs.
“Saying ‘I’m good’ is incorrect, granddaughter, because ‘good’ is an adjective and modifies a noun, not a verb.”
I hate to disagree with my grandfather on this (especially on what would have been his 101st birthday), but truth be told, answering the “How are you?” question with “I’m good” is actually grammatically fine.
Why? It’s because there is a difference between action verbs and linking verbs.
Action verbs are easy – they describe actions. Verbs like “run,” “dance,” “jump,” and “play” are all action verbs. If you’re describing an action verb, you’re going to use an adverb like well.
RIGHT: “She dances really well.”
WRONG: “She dances really good.” (And I will make a face like you’ve just dragged your nails across a chalkboard.)
“Well” as an adverb relates to all of those action verbs.
Linking verbs aren’t so much about actions as they are about connecting words together (or “copulative” verbs). “To be” is arguably the quintessential linking verb. If I say, “The cat is fluffy,” I’m linking the word “cat” with “fluffy.” Other linking verbs are ones that describe senses (find a nice list of linking verbs here).
QUICK TIP: Remember that you can only use adjectives such as “good” and “bad” after linking verbs, you can’t use them after action verbs.
Getting back to why I’m good with good – everyone now understands the basic differences between action and linking verbs, right? Here’s why you can answer the “How are you” question with “I’m good” and be grammatically confident in your answer.
It’s called the “predicate adjective.” The predicate adjective refers to the noun before the linking verb. “How am I?” I (the noun) am (the linking verb) good (the predicate adjective).
Now, of course, nothing can be that simple as “well” is also used as a predicate adjective. I can also answer “How am I?” with “I am well.” Well, in this case, is used as a predicate adjective and generally refers to your overall health.
If someone is asking me how I’m doing because I’ve been ill, “I’m well” is an appropriate response. If someone is asking me how I’m doing on just your average day and not asking specifically about my health, “I’m good” is a more appropriate response. So, I’m good with good, grammatically.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.