Hey, how are you?

Quick: How did you answer that question in your head? Did you think, “I’m good”? Or did you think, “I’m well”?

(If you said something else—“I’m awesome,” maybe—that’s just dandy, but please imagine you gave one of the first two responses.)

If you’re a “good” person, have you ever been told that your response is incorrect? Have you been told that “well” is the right answer to this question?

Guess what: You can be good (having a positive state of mind). You can be well (feeling healthy). And you can be correct either way.

Well, That’s Good . . .

Let’s get a little technical to see why this is the case. In our phrase, good is an adjective and well is an adverb. I’m is a contraction of “I am,” which is first person singular of the verb to be. The key here is the verb to be—it’s a linking verb.

You may remember learning a rule along those lines in your grade school days. Unfortunately, it’s oversimplified.

Most of us know that saying something like “I boogied good” is incorrect. We’d have to say, “I boogied well.” We use the adverb well, not the adjective good, to modify the verb boogied. (Boogied is definitely an action verb!)

However, it’s not incorrect to say, “I was good on the dance floor.” Here we have the same situation of using the adjective good to modify a verb (was), but it sounds fine. The reason is because was is the past tense of a linking verb, not an action verb.

Linking verbs include appear, be, become, feel, get, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, and taste. Notice how using adjectives in the following sentences is perfectly natural whereas using adverbs (add -ly to any of the descriptors) would sound wrong:

So, How Are You?

People usually intend “How are you?” as a casual greeting. Unless you are recovering from sprains and spasms due to your dance floor moves, have no fear of answering, “I’m good!”

If you think the person is inquiring about your recovery, go with “I’m well!”

Whether you are describing your moves on the dance floor or simply yourself as a talented dancer, remember that action verbs need adverbs, but linking verbs can waltz with adjectives anytime.

Let us know in the comments if we busted a myth for you today.