Archive: September 8th, 2008

MM: How Do You Feel About a Can of Worms?


Here’s the grammatical equivalent of a trick question:

“How are you?”

The instinctive answer–here in the U.S., at least–is to say, “I’m good.”

Except, of course, that “good” is an adjective, not an adverb, and this inspires lots of debate.

Because when you say “I am good,” the word “good” is an adjective modifying the word “I” so that you’re more or less saying that you are good as opposed to naughty, rather, like Eliza Doolittle affirming, “I’m a good girl, I am.” This can be correct, just like you can say, “I am tall,” or “I am late.”

The problem arises because scores of English teachers insist that what you should be saying is “I am well,” because you are describing how you ARE, so that an adverb is the correct semantic choice, not an adjective, which puts “good” out of the running.

But, really, how can you say for sure, when somebody tells you “I’m good,” that they are defining their actual state (in which case an adjective would work), or their sense of well-being?

And then, if you look “Good” up in the dictionary, there are a whole slew of meanings for it as an adjective, and as noun … but there’s also an informal definition as an adverb, meaning “well.” This more or less implies that, at least when speaking, it is now acceptible to say, “I’m good!”

Or, is it?

What do you think? Can of worms?