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GOOD v WELL – the struggle continues

My daughter has the shits, good and proper.

This, of course, isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time this event ever happens.

Her current part-time job is working in a tertiary institution where, for the first time in her life, she is not a student. What is getting her knickers in a right tangle? Reasonably well-educated high school students are unable to properly use ‘good’ and ‘well.’

She has observed, with amused encouragement, my rookie-like attempts at creating a blog while still not knowing what the hell I’m doing; and has proceeded to issue me with a specific set of, if not exactly instructions, certainly suggestions. It would mean my life not to obey.

The first order of business was to set up a page for the grammarian, the pedant that lurks in those of us who like to play with language.  The second suggestion was that my first post examine when to use ‘good’ and when to use ‘well’; this being the cause of her current case of conniptions.

Why she thinks anyone would want to read a pedant’s page is beyond me but here goes.

GOOD is an ADJECTIVE. An adjective’s job is to modify NOUNS. GOOD is only ever an adjective. God, I hope you know what a noun is! It is the concrete stuff we see, hear, touch, taste and feel. Dogs, cats, birds, tables, chairs, air, earth, wind, and fire, girls and boys, etc., are common concrete nouns. There also exists abstract nouns; stuff like fear, democracy, philosophy, shame, etc.  When you shove ‘good’ in front of a noun you get a good girl, a good boy, a good dog, the adjective helps tell us what kind of girl, what kind of boy, what kind of dog…etc.

WELL is an ADVERB. An adverb’s job is to modify VERBS. Verbs are the action words, for example, to: run, jump, skip, hop, fly, talk, race, sing, feel…etc. Adverbs tell us ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’ or ‘to what degree’ we are running, singing, jumping, talking…etc.

You cannot confuse the two.

GOOD = adjective. WELL = adverb.

The horse ran good last week; the football team played good tonight; the Australians fielded good.   AAAAGH!

We’ve all heard examples such as these with increasing monotony. The worst proponents of the new dumbed-down English are, of course, sporting ‘journalists/commentators’, especially television and radio commentators who played the game that is the subject of their commentary, and usually played the game very well, but they certainly didn’t pay attention during English lessons. It would add at least twenty IQ points to their score if they could correct just this one error of their using ‘good’ for everything, and ‘well’ never at all.

Being honest for a minute, we all commit this error regularly.  ‘How are you?’ is usually answered with ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘I’m well’, the latter being the grammatically correct usage. ‘I am good’ really means ‘I am a good person’, not ‘I am feeling well’.

The correct use of these words is predicated on one’s ability to identify nouns and verbs. Of course, therein lies the rub.  There are two or three, four or five (?) generations of Australians who wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a noun and a verb if their life depended upon it.

At some point each of us must make a choice. The first is to be prisoners in a communication prison of our own making. In that prison we will never be master; we will never be in control. The lack of language skills will forever limit our ability to say what we want to say, and how we want to say it. And it is all because of our ignorance of what language is, and how it works. This lack of language skills will mean that we will only ever be, at best, a mediocre communicator.

The other choice is to be master of the birthright that is our language. It becomes our plaything. Like play dough, language can then be fashioned, molded and sculpted in any way we desire. Experiment with language; construct, deconstruct and reconstruct – that is what language wants us to do. Break the rules; by all means, break the rules. However, to break them, first we have to know what they are, and how they work; otherwise the outcome will be communication lacking in clarity.

I hope this helps.

I noticed that M/soft WORD doesn’t seem to recognize the interrobang.

What kind of super genius do you really think you are Gates?! Get with the times!

Best wishes

J

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