I have been told that 'you look good' is the perfect compliment to give. Because 'you are looking good' is not colloquial. How correct is it?

For example, if I have to ask others about myself:

  1. How do I look?
  2. How am I looking? (This would be incorrect I guess)

Having said that, I've come across 'you're looking good / nice' kind of dialogues in English movies.

How to differentiate the uses of both?


7 Answers 7


How do I look?

How am I looking?

Both the sentences are grammatical.

If you are asking about your appearance or the way you are doing something at the present time; at the time of speaking, you can use either, without any difference in meaning. However, the use of the presrnt simple is more common than the present continuous. Nevertheless, many people use the present continuous for emphasis.

On the other hand, if you are asking about how you always or generally look, you should invariably use the former (the present simple).

The verb "look" in the sentences is a stative/linking verb used in the sense of the verb seem or appear.

According to grammar, we don't normally use stative verbs in the continuous form. But, sometimes, some stative verbs like "look" can be used in the continuous form depending whether the situation or condition we mean is permanent or temporary. You use the present simple for a permanent condition and the present continuous for a condition that's temporary or for a short period of time. For example:

If we say "This shirt is looking nice on you", it's a temporary situation limited to the period of time you are wearing this shirt. However, if we say "you look just like your father", we are referring here to a permanent situation. In the former example, we can use either the present simple or the present continuous, but in the latter example, we use the present simple. (John Eastwood Oxford Practice Grammar).

  • Reference please.
    – Maulik V
    Nov 18, 2014 at 7:55
  • 6
    Any 'rule' that claims those verbs cannot be used in the continuous aspect is simply wrong. You'll find hundreds of citations in such corpora as the British National Corpus, the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the Corpus of Global Web-Based English
    – tunny
    Nov 18, 2014 at 9:00
  • 5
    I think this answer is on the right track, but it needs to be fleshed out more. After all, "How do I sound?" does seem better than, "How am I sounding?" and, "Does that seem right to you?" seems better than, "Is that seeming right to you?" But "according to grammar" does seem a bit vague, and I agree with @tunny in that, "I'm sounding terrible today," doesn't seem "ungrammatical."
    – J.R.
    Nov 18, 2014 at 9:51
  • Tunny/J.R. thanks for nice comments. By the way, I have said that these verbs are not usually in the continuous form. We need your guidance for further clarification.
    – Khan
    Nov 18, 2014 at 12:38
  • Maulik, I didn't refute your first comments. What I mean to say is that seem, appear, look, be, etc. are also used as linking verbs, which are not usually in the continuous forms.
    – Khan
    Nov 18, 2014 at 13:44
  1. How do I look?
  2. How am I looking?

Both are grammatical and fine to use in conversation. I use "looking good" when I'm encouraging someone to keep doing whatever it is they're doing. For example, "You're looking good! The time you're spending at the gym is making a difference." or "You're looking good in the ring Ali, just watch out for Frazier's left hook." (a boxing reference if it's not clear)

If I am commenting on the way something looks that I don't expect to change because of some action that's in process, I would use "look" instead of "looking". For example, "You look good! That color is very flattering." or "I haven't seen you in years. You look good!"


The BBC states:

Stative verbs describe states or conditions which continue over a period of time, so like, love, hate, want, need, hear and see would all be examples of stative verbs. These verbs are not normally used in the progressive form.

However, some stative verbs are occasionally used in the progressive form when they describe something with a definite beginning and end. For example:

  • I am smelling coffee; there must be a coffee shop nearby.
  • I'm thinking of going to my friend in the evening.
  • I am feeling that this is going to be a hard day.

Some stative verbs can be used in the continuous form but their meaning might change. For example:


  • Do you think so? (Stative - Is that your opinion? Is that the state of your belief?)
  • He's thinking about his friends in Poland (Dynamic - The action of thinking. His friends are in his thoughts, in his mind right now but he might be thinking of something else soon).


  • He has got brown eyes (Stative - He possesses brown eyes. The colour is unlikely to change).
  • He's having a pint of beer (Dynamic - The action of drinking. He might be drinking something else soon).


  • I don't see what you mean. (Stative - I don't understand what you mean).
  • She is seeing him next week. (Dynamic - She is meeting him).

The BBC has a good lesson about "Using stative verbs in continuous tense":

Many state verbs have two different forms (a state one and a dynamic one) with a change in meaning:

  • Mike's usually so energetic! (a personality trait).
  • Why's he being so lazy? (current behaviour).

We can use the present continuous with forever, always and constantly to show annoyance about a repeated habit:

  • You're forever interrupting me.
  • I know I quit, but I’m constantly wanting a cigarette.

State verbs can be used in the continuous form to make requests and questions more polite and less direct:

  • Sorry to interrupt. I was wanting to borrow the car.

Sometimes we use a state verb in the continuous form to emphasise a strong feeling at the moment of speaking:

  • I'm loving this party!
  • I don’t care how long the chef took to cook it. I’m not accepting that.

Some idioms and set phrases use state verbs in the continuous form:

  • I just don’t know what to do about this situation. It's really weighing on my mind.
  • I've been seeing my boyfriend for a few months now.

In most cases the '-ing' form of the verbs shows a sense of something being temporary.

Question Summary

  • You look good. (It is an opinion.)
  • You are looking good. (It's a way your thoughts go just now. We're talking about an action that is taking place now, at the moment of speaking.)

Notice: For an "unchangeable state" you cannot use the continuous tense:

  • He looks like his father.

Another good use of "looking good" you may find interesting.


"[You're] looking good" is an idiom, existing outside the normal rules of grammar.

"You look good" generally implies here-and-now, particularly with regard to social presentation (clothing, hair, etc). Its purpose is usually to reassure, not to compliment.

"[You're] looking good!" is usually a compliment, especially as an exclamation without the "you're". It's not usually meant to reassure except in a general way; it's appreciative. It tends to be used more for physical qualities than grooming, but there's no clear dividing line.


Corpus evidence brought by tunny is what you would consider by far descriptive and what you need is a prescrpitive approach.

I would say the progressive form is rather colloquial.


When describing a situation and in particular the appearance of a person

You look good.

is a statement about some or all of a person's appearance often with the emphasis on "good", the phrase tends to always be part of a sentence

Those shoes look good with that outfit.
That dress looks good on her.

The feeling is static, as in "run a long distance".


Looking good.

can be used as a stand alone statement, specifically for effect, especially when "looking" is emphasized. It has a more active, progressive feel as in "running a long distance"

She is looking good in that dress tonight.

Q: How do I look?
A: Looking good!

it also has more of a feeling of "sexual attractiveness" than "look good", and that there may be other possibilities as the night progresses.

One possible way to see the difference is to invert the two words

She has good looks.
She is good looking.

The first is the possession of a characteristic (static), the second is a way of being (dynamic). Possibly most people would rather be "good looking". A quick search of "would you rather look good or be good looking" or "would you rather have good looks or be good looking" reveals that most of the comparisons are against "good looking", e.g. "Would you rather be rich or good looking?"

In general "looking good" has the feeling of

things are looking up
things will only get better


Both forms are equally valid. Different nuances may be achieved by using the alternate forms: (Emphasise the capitalised words)

"YOU look good" "You look GOOD" "You ARE looking good"

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