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She was as beautiful a girl as well might be in the whole wide world. (Garden of Love) by Jeniffer Jackson

This pattern is new to me. Usually could is used . Is "well might" used here to have the same meaning?

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This is a conflation of a fairly ordinary subjunctive use of might in a comparative construction with the stock expression may/might (very) well be.

She was as beautiful a girl as might      be.
                              +might well be.

The speaker probably drew well into the sentence under a vague sense that the well in may/might well be is some sort of an intensifier. It is an intensifier there, but what it intensifies is the speaker’s acknowledgment or concession that the predicate headed by may/might is not merely a remote possibility, but a significant possibility:

He may be right. ... It is at least possible that he is right.
He may well be right. ... It is so likely that he is right that we must at least consider it.

The use of well here must be considered a mistake.

One sentence is not much to go on; but this infelicity and the gee-whizziness of “in the whole wide world” suggest to me that this is either an unsophisticated writer, or a sophisticated writer deliberately mimicking the style of an unsophisticated one—perhaps for comic effect, perhaps to give a sense of character, perhaps to conform to a particular genre.

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  • So you mean to say that well might structure is always wrong? Jul 28, 2014 at 2:54
  • And I didn't get why in your quoted sentences using well is considered a mistake? From dictionary I get the meaning of "may well" is "probably" Jul 28, 2014 at 3:24
  • @Man_From_India Well might by itself is just inverted; but well might in that context is a mistake. "She was as beautiful a girl as might very probably be" doesn't make any sense; the sense the author aims at is "She was as beautiful as it is possible to be".. Jul 28, 2014 at 3:54
  • Thanks. But "might well" = "probably". If we substitute it, it will be "she was as beautiful a girl as probably be". It makes sense. Jul 28, 2014 at 4:06
  • @Man_From_India Not in this context. It weakens the statement: "She was as beautiful girl as might be in the whole wide world - maybe." Jul 28, 2014 at 11:38

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