debate on "you did good"

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Tue Aug 14 21:05:34 UTC 2001

The info-childes list (on first language acquisition) has been discussing
morphological regularization by children, and the interpretation of phrases
like "you did good" came up.  I've added a couple of my own comments plus
rejoinders to them.  What do you all think (ordinary) people mean when they
use this phrase?  As usual, start at the bottom; I've tried to keep these
in sequence.

>Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 13:07:41 -0400
>From: Beverly Flanigan <flanigan at>
>Subject: RE: Bogoyvalenskiy, D
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K. W-Q wrote:
Don't you think that 'you did good' comes from 'you did something good'
which is ultimately 'you did something that is good'? It's not an adverb in
the sense of you did it well, but an adjective with ellipsis of 'something'.

Kate Wolfe-Quintero
Associate Professor, PhD Program in SLA and MA Program in ESL
Department of Second Language Studies
University of Hawai`i at Manoa
Director, Hawai'i English Language Program
1395 Lower Campus Rd. MC 13-1, Honolulu, HI 96822
email: katewq at
phone: (808) 956-9909
fax: (808) 956-2802

>BF wrote:
>We once discussed this distinction on the American Dialect Society
>listserv, and we agreed that "You did good" could mean what you suggest
>(noun=a good thing/deed) but that it usually doesn't in its current
>idiomatic usage.  It's a congratulatory comment, after, e.g., a good
>sports play or a good exam score, and even (!) professors use it, though
>in a somewhat jocular manner (in what Gumperz called a metaphoric switch
>to colloquial usage).  There's clearly no misunderstanding the speaker's
>Similarly, I agree that there's no misunderstanding in the German usage,
>but my recollection is that "gut" is now the general adverb except in
>expression of emotion, as in your example.  The active-verb adverb would
>be 'gut', I believe--but let's hear from a native speaker!
>Jon M. wrote:
>>I don't think that "you did good" uses good as an adverb, rather a noun, as
>>in "let's do some good".  The fact that people may consider this in an
>>adverbial sense is probably a misunderstanding.
>>Also from a German perspective, I think the context is understood to the
>>native speaker.  I'm no native speaker, but I believe that answering 'gut'
>>would be implicitly considered "mir geht's gut" (i.e. goes well with me).
>>Wohl would be different from gut (just as well is different from good)
>>e.g. ich
>>fuhle mich wohl.

>At 05:18 PM 8/14/01 +0100, BF wrote:
>> > The adverbial use of "good" in the States may have begun as a dialect
>> > variant, but it is now simply idiomatic in certain phrases:  "You did
>> > good," and after "How are you?" "I'm good, how are you?"  But hasn't the
>> > same change occurred with German "gut"?  Isn't "wohl" reserved mainly for
>> > idioms like "Leb wohl"?  Such regularization is not unusual; adverbial -ly
>> > is also falling away in many dialects:  "Go slow," "Do you say this
>> different?"
>>Thora T. wrote:
>> > >Thank you for this -- I never heard that. This might make it more
>> plausible
>> > >that those using "I did better" are somehow aware of the relationship
>> to "I
>> > >did good".
>> > >Of course, understanding "well" really well involves understanding the
>> > >relationship of the adverb to the adjective. Could it be that the
>> > >increasing usage of the adjective rather than the adverb is due to a
>> > >certain uneasiness with this irregularity? Maybe, for speakers, "well" is
>> > >somehow too remote from "good" to be used with the same ease (in contexts
>> > >where something "good" is to be expressed), so they increasingly prefer
>> > >"good"?! (I'm not too familiar with the mechanisms of language change --
>> > >I'm just speculating!)
>> > >- Thora
>> > >
>> > >
>> > >
>> > >Thora Tenbrink
>> > >Spatial Cognition Priority Program & WSV
>> > >Universitaet Hamburg
>> > >FB Informatik
>> > >Vogt-Koelln-Str. 30
>> > >D-22527 Hamburg
>> > >
>> > >Tel.: +49/*40/42883-2382
>> > >Fax:  +49/*40/42883-2385
>> > >e-mail: tenbrink at
>> > >
>> >
>> >
>> > >At 18:06 13.08.2001 +0100, A. K-S wrote:
>> > > >Don't Americans say "I did good" - I hear them say in response to
>> > > >"how are you"  = "Good" and it is creeping into British english too,
>> > > >replacing "well".  I've heard anecodatlly bestest, betterest amd
>> > > >gooder but never goodest..
>> > > >Annette Karmiloff-Smith

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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