“Couldn’t Percy do that?” Harry asked. The last he had heard, the third Weasley brother was working in the Department of International Magical Cooperation at the Ministry of Magic. At these words all the Weasleys and Hermione exchanged darkly significant looks. “Whatever you do, don’t mention Percy in front of Mum and Dad,” Ron told Harry in a tense voice. “Why not?” “Because every time Percy’s name’s mentioned, Dad breaks whatever he’s holding and Mum starts crying,” Fred said. “It’s been awful,” said Ginny sadly. “I think we’re well shut of him,” said George with an uncharacteristically ugly look on his face.

Does it mean better? It is better to get rid of Percy at the moment?

  • In case you've not picked up on the ongoing debate below, please be aware that the answer you've accepted is (1) not substantiated by convincing appropriate examples of the exact usage (2) deemed incorrect by the only authority I can find who covers this usage (3) wrong in my opinion. You were very close with 'better': It's (far) better to not have him around. No intensification attaches to 'rid'; 'very rid' is not the true explanation. Aug 18, 2014 at 9:19
  • Oh, are we allowed to slant people toward our answers by using comments? OP, please note that (1) the above comment is being made by a user who claims to have used well the same way for over fifty years, and hence may be outdated and that (2) the answer he has posted is sourced from a text over forty years old, by an author who did not speak the language as it is spoken today (he passed away in the 90s) and (3), may be partially correct - I can consider others' views, and recognise that language my realise multiple meanings simultaneously. Please, if you feel it presents a more convincing...
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2014 at 10:57
  • argument, change your answer acceptance. It's possible for both answers to be correct in this case, but if the little tick is valuable to others, I'll happily concede it. Note that @EdwinAshworth considers a forty year old article to be a more appropriate source than a dictionary, and current usage. Perhaps in the 70s, it was the right interpretation, but now? Language has changed, and quite a bit.
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2014 at 11:03
  • Thank to both of you for the new inputs(quite some heated debate), and I have done some check up on the phrase with google and found both answers makes sense under different context and authors' intents. And in this case of Rowling's writing, Edwin's certainly makes more sense: Harry asked why they didn't mention Percy, Weasleys thought they better get rid of him for a bit to let things cool off. As this is a question concerning context, it's more fair to pick the answer that fits the context for future readers.
    – user49119
    Aug 18, 2014 at 13:30
  • But I am not a native speaker, so I have to go with my guts when there are two equally sound answers. But of course it's still open for discussion if there's still a even more logical explanations for the phrase here.
    – user49119
    Aug 18, 2014 at 13:33

3 Answers 3


This usage of 'well' is not the intensifier usage, as Dwight Bolinger argues in 'Degree Words':

In dealing with degree words and the comparative indeterminacy of 'approval' and 'fulfilment' [though 'well-spoken' obviously carries the approval sense and 'well-read' obviously carries the intensifier sense , what does eg 'She baked the bread well' mean?], it is well to remember that [words which cannot be intensified can accept only the 'approval' sense] [eg:]

It was a well-conceived plan.

The case was well argued. [both mean 'in a good way' not 'thoroughly']

This is equally true when ['well' is used with] forms other than verbs, though these are less numerous; semantically, they are very much like verbs:

We are well rid of them....

For 'well rid of', some speakers would use 'well shut of' with 'shut' used as a verbal ['well shut of' best regarded as colloquial (but quite common) in the UK].

He is well rid of them uses 'well' as an evaluative pragmatic marker (a comment by the narrator on the value of the fact that 'he is rid of them'). Traditionally, this is a one-word reduction of a comment clause, or a[n evaluative] sentence adverbial. It is paraphrased by 'It is well that he is rid of them' (archaic) or 'It's a good thing that he's rid of them'. The usage is not the intensifier usage of well seen in say 'He is well clear of them'.

The usage is unusual in that evaluative etc pragmatic markers are usually set off by commas to distinguish such usage from the adverbial one:

He is happily married. [adv]

He is, happily, married. [pm] (cf Happily, he is married.)

He is, happily, well shut of them. [pm]

but He is well shut of them. [pm]

shows that 'well' bucks the trend.

  • So in this case, the speaker being the character of Ginny Weasley, you would argue that it is the author portraying the character's evaluation of the fact that they are "shut of him"? I fail to see why it can't both intensify and evaluate "[being] shut of him".
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2014 at 8:09
  • Can you find an authority saying that that the 'well' used in 'well rid/shut of' is the intensifier usage? I don't usually do this, but I'll mention that I've been familiar with the evaluative sense (and only that) for over 50 years. And Dwight Bolinger was an American linguist and Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard – and his argument is that This (words which cannot be intensified can accept only the 'approval' sense) is equally true when 'well' is used with forms other than verbs, and that 'well shut / rid of' is one of these cases. Try asking on ELU. Ask JKR. Aug 18, 2014 at 8:31
  • Well, in my cited definition above, based on the Collins dictionary (built using extensive corpora of the English language - and in this case, British English) states that well can be used as an intensifier, and as competent users of English that we are, we may extrapolate this to various contexts. I didn't realise that we are now required to cite each phrase verbatim, I'll note that for future answers. Additionally, an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy - language is defined by its users, not by stone tablets that fell from the heavens into Dwight Bolinger's arms.
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2014 at 8:37
  • So shut isn't a verb?
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2014 at 8:39
  • (1) When Jack and Jill went up the hill, 'well' wasn't used as an intensifier. Not every sense applies in every situation. Though admittedly, this isn't even the same word. (2) Why should I believe that your level of competency is greater than a Professor of Languages? (3) Faced with the weight of the counter-arguments, I'd retract my answer as misleading if I were you. Aug 18, 2014 at 8:42

It's a bit of a British-ism - in British English, well can be used as an intensifier.

In much the same way as you might say that someone is well informed, you can use well in British vernacular as a generic intensifier.

See Collins, sense 11:

(informal) (intensifier) ⇒ "well safe"

and Collins 'shut of':

(slang) to get rid of

In the above usage, well shut of him means to be "very rid of him".

  • Does he mean they are already "very rid of him" or going to "very rid of him"?
    – user49119
    Jun 15, 2014 at 9:56
  • @user49119 The clause is: We are (well) shut of him. This is a stative passive. It uses to be + past participle (used as an adjective). As such, it refers to a an existing state. It is similar to I am married, which means I am currently married. So: we are already well shut of him.
    – user6951
    Jun 15, 2014 at 11:35
  • Sadly, I don't think this answer is correct. Aug 17, 2014 at 9:36

I understand "Well shot of..." to mean: To get rid of somebody / something so that you no longer have the problems they cause.

As a native UK english speaker I've never heard “... well shut of ...”, even thought it is given in the Collins dictionary. I think "shut" may be a more American english use. “Well shot of..” is far more commonly heard in the UK.

I can't find any evidence but I do wonder if it is a 18th century British Naval slang term, like "long shot", meaning to aim at something a long way away, with little chance of hitting it.

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