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Edited

I've seen the word "a well person" in my school examination meaning a person who is not currently sick, can the word well be used as an adjective like that? Is "a well being person" more preferable? And how do we normally use the word well before a noun.

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    I've voted to re-open, because I think it could well be difficult for a learner to appreciate that idiomatically, very few native speakers would casually use the word well before a noun the same way we use, say, healthy or fit. And although the slightly different usage "I am not well" is still perfectly natural, I myself am in no doubt that the non-negated "I am well" would normally be seen as dated/formal today. – FumbleFingers May 20 '14 at 15:35
  • @FumbleFingers This question only helps them learn that if they read your comment. Which I'm hoping they do. And/or we have a better answer posted. – jimsug May 20 '14 at 16:46
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    @jimsug: Yeah - it's gratifying to see that three others have already endorsed my re-open vote. I don't know if that includes you (which might seem rather odd, since you were one of the original closevoters), but I think if all he had to go on were the existing answers on a closed question, a learner would end up seriously misinformed. For example, there's nothing remotely unusual about gardeners wishing to have healthy plants, but who ever heard of a well plant? – FumbleFingers May 20 '14 at 17:03
  • @FumbleFingers So how actually is it used before a noun? Is it okay? – Santi Santichaivekin May 21 '14 at 1:36
  • "a well being person" is incorrect. – MGOwen May 21 '14 at 3:20
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You're asking whether well can be used attributively (as in "a well person") and not just predicatively ("she is well"). A great question!

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) on page 560 includes well among those adjectives that do not appear attributively, with only a few exceptions. Here's what they wrote:

Well is used attributively in the construction He's not a well man, but in general it is excluded from attributive use: compare *his well mother.

The exception mentioned in CGEL is specific to the negative phrase is not a well X, where X refers to a type of animate being (typically a person, though an animal is also possible). Here are some examples from The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

  1. Just an opinion, but he's not a well person.
  2. Bear in mind how I'm not a well woman.
  3. A plan was also floated to run him as Taft's vice presidential candidate, on the presumption Taft was not a well man and quite likely to die in office.
  4. I'm not a well woman, Mary.
  5. Mr. Cheskis, that orange cat is not a well cat. It should go to the ASPCA.

And you will find a few similar exceptions, including phrases like "a well-woman visit" where well is apparently an attributive modifier in a larger attributive phrase, but in general well does not appear attributively. What's more, these few exceptions we do find aren't particularly common. If you'd like to remember the simplified rule never use well attributively, it would serve you just fine.

Your phrase ?a well-being person is unnatural. Well-being, generally speaking, will be taken as a single noun, and it won't be understood the way you intended.


In this answer, the * symbol indicates that a phrase is ungrammatical, while the ? symbol indicates that a phrase is questionable.

  • A well-woman means a women who is healthy but still attend a health check. And in those examples the word well means good, right? "He is not a well person" is just the same as "he is not a good person ". – Santi Santichaivekin May 21 '14 at 5:18
  • Hmmm. I think I disagree. In the very specific case the asker is asking about, where well is in parallel construction to ill or sick, I think it does fly. e.g. "A sick person may take the elevator, but a well person is expected to climb the stairs." – Codeswitcher May 21 '14 at 5:58
  • @SantiSantichaivekin I've always construed the "well-woman" in "a well-woman check" to mean not that the woman was well, but that the check was to ensure her wellness. Not sure where that leaves you. – Codeswitcher May 21 '14 at 6:00
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    @SantiSantichaivekin Re And in those examples the word well means good, right? "He is not a well person" is just the same as "he is not a good person." Oh boy, this is tricky. In this usage "is not a well person" denotes "is mentally ill", but connotates that they're a bad person. This is an example of what we call the "stigma of mental illness", and the use of the language of health to cast aspersions on people's characters. So, no, it does not mean "good"... except that deep down, yes, that is what is being implied. – Codeswitcher May 21 '14 at 6:03
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    +1 This is exactly the kind of answer I was hoping for when I voted to reopen. @Santi: I suggest you never use "well" attributively. Partly because it's unusual, there's no consensus about what it means or implies. For example, I totally disagree with Codeswitcher's point above, and I have never heard "He is not a well person" in my life. I have heard "He is not a well man", meaning "He is chronically ill" (physically, not mentally), but woman is rare there because of associations with "Well woman clinics". – FumbleFingers May 21 '14 at 10:41
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In this context, well is indeed an adjective, and it means not ill or healthy. It is much more commonly used in British English than American English, though it is valid and correct in both dialects.

Dictionaries:

  • There are also well person health checks, tests performed when a person is well, not sick or injured. Usually its some kind of preventive care. – user3169 May 20 '14 at 4:55
  • Question updated^ ^ – Santi Santichaivekin May 21 '14 at 0:31
  • I have to disagree with more commonly used in British English than American. Checking prevalence in NGrams for a well person suggests this usage is 2-3 times more common in the US corpus than the British one. – FumbleFingers May 21 '14 at 10:54
  • @FumbleFingers I was referring to the general use of the adjectival well as healthy, not the construct well person specifically. Indeed, my linked dictionary entries specify that well in this sense is rarely if ever used immediately before nouns. In the US we typically would say good, fine or healthy, not well, to answer how are you feeling? whereas I encountered well as the adjective of choice in England. – Esoteric Screen Name May 21 '14 at 11:17
  • If by "general use" you mean predicatively ("He is well" = "He is in good health"), my gut feel (which seems to be backed up by NGrams) is that this form was indeed more common in BrE a couple of centuries ago. But it's fallen farther and faster in BrE than AmE since then, and although it's now somewhat dated/formal/uncommon everywhere, it now seems to be (slightly) more likely in AmE (which I feel has always been linguistically more conservative and slow to change, apart from specifically in respect of spelling because of Webster). – FumbleFingers May 21 '14 at 11:51

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