When you recover from being ill, are you feeling “well,” or are you feeling “good”? Likewise, when a person behaves morally, are their actions “well” or “good”? Furthermore, if you’re happy, would you say “all is well” or “all is good”?
“All is well” is correct. The phrase “all is good” is viewed as substandard English or slang, even though it’s not technically incorrect. “Well” and “good” function in each phrase as predicate adjectives tied to the pronoun “all” through the linking verb “is” and not as adverbs.
We’ll explain the meaning of the phrases “all is well” and “all is good” and why the former is preferable. To demonstrate why this is the case, we will also clarify the difference between “well” and “good” as individual words.
“All Is Well” or “All Is Good”
The phrases “all is well” and “all is good” appear with some frequency in both spoken and written English. Likewise, they both appear in a variety of settings, from informal conversation to professional writing. This makes it all the more difficult to determine which phrase is correct, both in general and in specific situations.
However, we can arrive at a conclusion by analyzing each expression, its components, and its applications.
What Is the Meaning of “All Is Well”?
When something is completely satisfactory, English speakers may say, “All is well” (source). Still, this phrase pops up less often in modern speech and writing than it does in past works.
Although it is a fictional (and animated) account, the Disney film Robin Hood provides a great example of such usage. While patrolling a prison yard, one character shouts, “One o’clock, and all is well!” Note that this film depicts an exaggerated version of England in the 1300s or 1400s.
Jumping ahead a few centuries, you will also find sentences like, “I hope that all is well,” at the beginning of numerous English letters, both personal and professional. This became a common greeting from the 1700s onward. Some highly formal letters will still use this sentence or the similar, “I hope this letter finds you well.”
Nowadays, when someone phrases it as a question or interrogative statement, you’re more likely to see and hear sentences like, “I hope you’re alright” and “I hope everything is okay.”
“All is well” is still perfectly grammatically correct, but native English speakers tend to view it as clunky and overly formal. Instead, you’re more likely to encounter the abbreviated version “all’s well.”
What Is the Meaning of “All Is Good”?
Unlike “All is well,” the phrase “All is good” is not something native English speakers typically say. While there’s nothing wrong with it structurally, few if any native English speakers ever write or say, “All is good.”
Instead, there is the common American English slang expression “It’s all good,” which is essentially the same phrase but in a different order.
“It’s all good” means essentially the same thing as “All is well,” but people often use it in the sense of “It’s okay” or “It’s alright” as a response to what someone else has done or concerns that they’ve expressed.
Structurally, “All is good” is the same as “All is well,” containing a predicate adjective that describes the pronoun “all’ through the linking verb “is.” Since we can’t use adjectives to describe action verbs, many assume that we cannot use the adjective “good” here.
Instead, they would recommend using the adverb “well” since adverbs can describe verbs, adjectives, etc. However, they’re forgetting that be-verbs like “is” often function as linking verbs, tying the descriptive word back to the subject as a condition or state of being.
Regardless, “All is good” has never caught on in the English language for whatever reason.
Well Compared to Good: Understanding Usage
To quote Weird Al Yankovic’s song “Word Crimes,” if “You finished second grade, I hope you can tell if you’re doing good or doing well.”
Even though the song is a humorous parody, it underestimates how hard English can be. Still, it brings up a good point: differentiating between “well” and “good” is important for speaking English properly.
“Well” and “Good” Have the Same Meaning
When you’re using “well” and “good” in English, it’s important to remember that “well” and “good” often have the same essential meaning. Both of these words express an overall positive and/or desirable situation or outcome.
Some grammar books and dictionaries even define “well” as one form of the word “good” — essentially, they are two different forms of the same word.
You probably remember that “good” is an irregular adjective. Its comparative and superlative forms are different from those of other adjectives, and so is its adverb form. The adverb form of “good” is not “goodly” — it’s “well”!
However, even though these words have the same essential meaning, you cannot use them interchangeably. That’s because “good” and “well” function as different parts of speech: “good” is an adjective, and “well” is an adverb. Let’s take a closer look at that distinction.
Adjectives vs. Adverbs
Before we get into the specifics of why “all is well” is correct but “all is good” is not, we need to explain the difference between “good” and “well” in general. To do this, we must first explain the difference between adjectives and adverbs.
Adjectives are words that modify nouns. They cannot modify verbs, while adverbs can. Apart from modifying verbs, adverbs can also modify adjectives, other adverbs, and even sentences (source).
Often, a quick way to determine if a word is an adverb is to look for the suffix -ly, although this is not the case for the adverb “well.”
For this reason, the best way to test whether a word is an adverb or an adjective is to determine what question it answers. Adjectives answer the questions “what,” “which,” and “how many.” Review the following examples:
|What||RedShort||What kind of apple? A red apple. What man? The short man.|
|Which||ThisFifth||Which chair? This chair. Which day? The fifth day.|
|How many||OneSeveral||How many days? One day.How many people? Several people.|
Adverbs answer the questions “when,” “where,” “how,” and “how much.” Review the following examples:
|When||SoonEventually||When will they arrive? They will arrive soon. When is the party? We will eventually have the party.|
|Where||HomewardsFar away||Where did the horse run? The horse ran homewards. Where does he live? He lives far away.|
|How||PoorlyGleefully||How did she play the piano? She played the piano poorly. How did she shout? She shouted gleefully.|
|How much did they enjoy the concert? They enjoyed it immensely. How much garlic did you add to the soup? I guess I added slightly more than I usually do.|
In English, “good” almost always acts as an adjective. This means that only a person, place, thing, or idea can be good. These nouns cannot, however, perform an action “good.” Instead, we can perform an action well.
For more concrete examples, look at the sentences below:
- Correct: That restaurant has good food. (“Food” is a noun, and it is good)
- Incorrect: She cooks food good. (“Good” cannot describe how she cooks the food)
“Good” can also be a noun when we use it to describe economics or general well-being (source). Common examples include phrases like “the public good” and “goods and services.”
“Well” is more diverse. Although it can also be an adjective, it usually performs the role of an adverb. For example, if someone is talented, they perform a particular action well.
The only time “well” functions as an adjective is when describing someone’s or something’s health. For a more concrete example, examine the following answers to the question, “How are you feeling?”
- Correct: I am feeling well.
- Incorrect: I am feeling good.
The sentence, “I am doing good,” is not grammatically incorrect, though. It just does not mean what the majority of people think it means. Doing good means to act in a morally upstanding way, and doing well means that the person is in good health.
For more on the difference between “doing well” and “doing good,” make sure you take the time to read our article on this subject.
Synonyms of “Well”
There are multiple reasons why someone might want to replace the words “good” or “well” in a sentence.
First, and as we’ve described throughout this article, determining which word to use can be tricky. For those concerned about making a mistake in their speech or writing, the safer option is to use a synonym for “good” or “well.”
Second, both “good” and “well” are vague terms. In other words, while they convey a general meaning, they are not specific or detailed. We can use the descriptors “good,” “better,” and “best,” but these only state goodness in comparison to another thing. How “good” is “better” on its own, for instance?
Examples Using Synonyms
If you find yourself wanting to use “well” in a sentence, here are some synonyms that you might consider using instead (source):
When using “well” as an adjective to describe positive health:
- Hale and hearty
- Fit as a fiddle
Person 1: How is Marie doing?
Person 2: She has fully recovered from the flu, and now she’s fit as a fiddle.
When using “well” as an adjective to describe good luck:
Example: We finally had a lucky streak and won the lottery. Now, we’re flourishing, and all of our investments are proving to be profitable.
When using “well” as an adverb to describe a verb that is sufficient:
Example: She played the piano satisfactorily at her recital.
Note that the latter examples usually mean “good enough” rather than “the best.” For example, if you were describing someone who achieved straight As in school, it would come across as passive-aggressively insulting to say, “They performed adequately.”
It may be better for you to stick with “well” instead to help avoid troublesome connotations like this. Compare the previous example sentence with, “She played the piano very well at her recital.”
Have It “All”
The word “all” is the subject of the phrase “all is well,” which means “all” is a pronoun in this case (source). Here, “all” refers to “everything” or “the whole state or situation of my life and the world around me.” Instead of saying all of that, you can use “all” as a pronoun.
You can also use “all” as a modifier or as the object of a preposition, as in “at all.”
That Little Word “Is”
Perhaps the most important part of the phrase “all is well” is the tiny verb in the middle: “is.” That’s because this simple present form of the verb “to be” is a linking verb here. This linking verb shows the connection between the subject “all” and the predicate adjective “well” (source).
In English, unlike many other languages, you always need to include a verb in every single sentence. For example, in the phrase “all is well,” that little word “is” is necessary because it is the main verb that shows the state of your situation.
You should note that “is” can function as a linking verb or a helping verb. A linking verb acts as the main verb, while a helping verb helps the main verb.
In the sentence “All is well,” “is” functions as a linking verb. However, in the sentence “He is doing well,” “is” functions as a helping verb because it helps the main verb “doing.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
When “is” stands alone between the subject and predicate, it’s a linking verb. However, if there’s another verb (in any form) next to “is,” then it’s a helping verb.
Although English speakers sometimes use phrases like, “It’s all good,” in informal settings, it is never correct to say, “All is good.” The correct way to describe a generally positive situation is to say, “All is well.”
However, this phrase has fallen out of fashion in contemporary English, and you’re more likely to find it in historical or highly formal writing. Instead, English speakers will say, “Everything is okay,” or, “I’m doing alright.”