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My in-laws are from the Caribbean, and they use phrases such as: "The soup is well good." "She's a well good woman."

By 'well', they mean 'very', 'really', or even 'extremely'. At least that is my interpretation from context. It usually seems to be used in a positive sense. That is, I have not heard anyone say, "He's a well bad man" but perhaps they are just positive people!

Are these sentences grammatically correct? For those tempted to just blurt out, "No, they sound wrong", please consider the following sentences which I hear around my home town (San Diego) all the time.

"Your shot was well long of the hole." "He fell well short of his goals." "She's a well fed woman."

What part of speech is "well" in the previous five sentences? I think in the first one at least it's an adjective modifying the noun "good". Usually, 'well' is an adverb as in: "He did well on the test".

Thanks, Dave

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    It's grammatically correct but dialectal. For many speakers, well doesn't have this usage available. – snailboat Jul 11 '14 at 21:37
  • Some brief discussion on Language Log: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3633 – snailboat Jul 11 '14 at 21:47
  • snailplane: Thanks for the link! It was well interesting! I especially liked the example of "well fit girl" from Ali G. Apparently, it's not the Caribbean that uses "well" this way. – Dave Jul 11 '14 at 22:31
  • I wouldn't call it an adjective anyway; it's clearly modifying adjectives in each of your examples. I'd call it an adverb, if anything. – jimsug Jul 11 '14 at 22:53
  • jimsug, I think you are correct. Is the ability to use "well" dependent on whether it's modifying a verb or an adjective? A sentence one hears a lot is: "I am well aware of that fact". In this sentence, I believe aware is a verb. In my first example I think well is modifying an adjective? – Dave Jul 11 '14 at 23:44
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It definitely has a use outside the dialectal: "well beyond", "well away", "well nigh". All the examples I can think of seem to be either about location, or (in the case of "well nigh") words that mean location but have other (figurative?) meanings too.

Others have covered its dialectal use quite, umm, well.

As to its part of speech: I believe that when a word modifies an adjective, it's classed as an adverb, although I've never quite understood that. (My guess is that it's because the use of words as adjective-modifiers and verb-modifiers almost always coincides, although there are exceptions, like "very"!)

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Are these sentences grammatically correct?

They are grammatically correct in certain dialects, and not in others.

In the most widespread forms of English, they are not grammatically correct. (And the rest of this answer will deal solely with those.)

For those tempted to just blurt out, "No, they sound wrong", please consider the following sentences which I hear around my home town (San Diego) all the time. […]

Language is not always very logical. Sometimes one sentence can be grammatical, and another ungrammatical, for very subtle or specific or historical reasons. (To take an extreme example: "Here be dragons" and "There be dragons" have historical resonances, and are unremarkable in educated speech, whereas "Where be dragons?" does not, and is not.)

That said, I don't think any of your examples is quite the same as "well good". In "well long of" and "well short of", "long of" and "short of" are functioning as prepositions (rather than the ordinary adjectives long and short). Note that we generally say "far short of" rather than ?"very short of", "further short of" rather than ?"shorter of", etc. In "well fed", fed is a participle: we cannot say "very fed", and can say "she was fed well".

In all of these, of course, well is still an adverb meaning approximately very; but whereas very is normally only used with adjectives, well is normally not used with adjectives. So we usually cannot replace one with the other.

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Thr Jamaican use of "well" (meaning very), is starting to be used by lots more young British, (mostly Londoners). But don't use the expression if you don't want to be ridiculed like the adults in the TV series, Absolutely Fabulous. You'd need to be young, British or Caribbean, extremely cool and know more Rastafarian/London street-talk, and use the right accent before you speak like this:

In sahf London, you may well hear someone say: "She's well fit."

This would not refer to her state of health.

from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/html/NF2766781?thread=6898274

[FWIW, "fit" means attractive, sexy]

OTOH,

"Your shot was well long of the hole." "He fell well short of his goals." "She's a well fed woman."

are all used in Standard English.

  • Your last example ("well fed") is just a standard adverb, like "well done", "well shaken" and "well written". – Tim Pederick Jul 12 '14 at 10:49
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Sacha Baron Cohen, when in character as Ali G, uses "well" in this way.

One also hears "well" on the "soccer" pitch in the USA, from players and coaches who happen to be fans of British football. For example, a player leaps high into the air to take a header, and someone will yell from the sidelines, "Well up, number 12!"

Upstairs Downstairs. The Royal Family. Football. Ali G. They're all forms of US anglophilia. :-)

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