Is this a correct tense of the idiom may very well? Can someone give me a breakdown of why this is correct grammar? It sounds right to me but I can't find any usage to check.

(If this is totally wrong, the gist I want to convey is that the thing is so immaterial that they'd have been better off not doing it at all).

  • Wouldn't "They may as well not have done it at all" better convey what you want to say? – WS2 Sep 6 '18 at 6:16
  • @WS2 Yes, that's right but I was looking for alternate, grammatically correct constructions that are somehow achievable by using the phrase very well. I suppose not? – Ankush Jain Sep 6 '18 at 8:59
  • "They may very well not have done it at all" is idiomatic, but means something entirely different. – WS2 Sep 6 '18 at 10:35
  • @WS2 Would you mind elaborating on that? – Ankush Jain Sep 7 '18 at 1:38
  • Well, "They may very well not have done it at all" means "It is likely they have not done it…" And that is a different thing to saying "They may as well not have done it" – WS2 Sep 7 '18 at 6:42

I don't know about the specific tense of your phrase “They'd very well not done it at all”; rather, I think it all depends upon the author's voice, style, formality and syntax. Your phrase sounds more "British" English, and thus, more formal; whereas, the sentence "They may as well not have done it." sounds more American English. (This is just to my ear, of course.) If I were to have written the latter (a subjunctive phrase itself), I probably would have phrased it "They may as well have not done it." This way, the stress on 'not' emphasizes the doing of the thing they should have avoided. The use of the contraction, though, is interesting because it reads better than if written as "They would very well not done it at all." Without the contraction, it seems to call out for a 'have' after the 'would'. Frankly, I like your construction and have copied it down in my sentence book for later use.

  • 1
    Do you think that in Britain we speak gobbledegook? The proposed sentence is non-idiomatic in any form of the language with which I am familiar. – WS2 Sep 6 '18 at 8:21
  • Studies I have read suggest that the idea that "British English is more formal" (in so far as "formal" can be defined) lacks substance. My understanding is that American English is more grammatically correct (they teach it in schools), but that people in Britain use a vastly greater range of vocabulary. But it is quite a long time ago that I read that. – WS2 Sep 6 '18 at 10:45

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