his ambitions in that direction have well been on pause for years

This phrase rolled off my tongue (or fingers, as I was typing), but I stopped to ask myself, and couldn't come up with a good answer, and neither could Google, so here I am asking — what exactly does "has well been" mean? I found a small number of example usages from google for context:

It has well been documented/recognised/established/known ...


The order of subject, object and verb has well been known


Poliphilo's language has well been described as Joycean


And in light of your answer, does the phrase that rolled off my tongue make sense?


1 Answer 1


In the first three examples you give, "well" adds an emphatic meaning to the statement. This is just adding a sense of certainty in the way these phrases are conveyed, for example, the first sentence is saying that the pause of this person's ambitions has very much been, absolutely been, or definitely been on pause for years. (In my opinion, "well" is a better choice than most words or phrases that could be used for emphasis here, but this a subjective stylistic choice.)

The fourth example you give is using "well" to indicate how apt other descriptions of Poliphilo's language have been. The order in this could be switched to say "has been well described," and mean the same thing.

The use of emphatic "well" is a bit of a British-ism. In colloquial British English, it is common for people to say that they had a "well good time" for example. (In looking this up, it looks like there have been some papers written about this: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329191392_The_Use_of_the_Adjective_Intensifier_'well'_in_British_English_A_Case_Study_of_The_Inbetweeners). The use of "well" as a qualifier as in "well executed," "well described," "well known," etc. is more common across different dialects as far as I know.

  • 1
    'Well' used to mean 'very' or 'completely' in British colloquial English is of fairly recent coinage. I would say no earlier than the 1980s. It is also, I believe, declining in popularity. It seemed to come from street slang to some extent. A pun on it was used in the early nineties in the soap opera Eastenders to name a dog that one character (Robbie Jackson) adopted. Robbie was a teenager and called the dog 'Wellard' because Robbie liked to think of the dog as "well hard". The scriptwriters used the pun to reflect Robbie's demographic and social class at the time.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 7:22
  • Thanks a lot, both! And I'm chuckling at the mention of The Inbetweeners, it's ridiculously good fun.
    – awreccan
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 15:51

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