Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

September 11, 2006

How Am I? I'll Tell You!

I'm getting a bit sick of people who seem to think that the only correct response to the question, "How are you?" is "Well". That's not true, people. "Good" is also correct.

You see, the difference between "well" and "good" is simple. "Good" is an adjective. That means that it describes nouns. A film can be good, as can a tree, a dog, an event or a thought. "Well", on the other hand, is an adverb. That means that it describes verbs. You can watch something well, climb something well, pat something, attend something or think something well. Right? Okay.

If I ask you, "How is the film?", the correct answer is "good". It is not "well". So too if I ask you, "How are you?", the correct answer is "good". It is not "well". This is because "you" is a (pro)noun, and not a verb. If I say, "How are you going?" or "How are you doing?", then the correct answer is "well" and not "good". Both "go" and "do" are verbs. Right.

Now, you might tell me that the question, "How are you?", naturally assumes one of the previous two extensions. Clearly I am not asking you how you are as a person, but how you have been keeping. "Keep", like "do" and "go" is a verb and merits the adverbial response. But I disagree. I do not think that that is necessarily what people are asking me, and I do not feel that it is incumbent upon me to treat the question as though it is possessing an invisible verb.

Next time someone asks you how you are, indicate that the sentence was a nominal one by providing them with something that is clearly an adjective! Look them straight in the eye and say,

"Tall, thanks. How are you?"


At 6:50 PM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

While it seems a little wrong to write the first and possibly only comment to my own post I just wanted to say that, yes, I know that "well" is also an adjective (synonymous with "healthy"). But if that's the case, then that PROVES that there is no syntactic superiority to saying "well" instead of "good", so why does every well-sayer act so smarmy about it!


At 10:16 AM , Blogger Billie Jean said...

Well, most people are even more confused about grammar than I am. I'm an editor, but my grammar is at least 70% intuitive. It wasn't taught in school in my day.

I have to fix up all the apostrophes in my husband's assignments. He's hopeless, but he's actually better than most. At least he can spell.

At 3:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it's entries like this that remind me why linguistics is an awesome subject area

At 4:00 PM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Thanks, anonymous!

It's always nice to receive a compliment from the author of so many of the poems that I love.

At 6:51 PM , Blogger Billie Jean said...

I thought they were by anon. ;)

At 11:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

forgot to sign name;
although I'm very flattered
that was only Jen

At 3:07 PM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Thanks for the compliment, Jen.
And don't worry: I'm sure that you are the author of so many of the poems that I love.

At 5:25 AM , Anonymous Joel said...

Lol to that last comment =)

The objection to replying "good" to "how are you" is not syntactic, but semantic. An adjective (of certain class) is certainly the correct response.

The only problem is that to say one is good often implies that they are of strong moral character. Rather, when asking how someone is, you would traditionally intend to ask to their health and wellbeing, whereby "well" is a perfectly suitable answer. As the question has changed in its meaning (to the extent of even being merely formalistic) this particularity is no longer so important.

I often answer "fine".


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