Very often when I send edited documents or other materials by email to a client, I receive a reply thanking me and a comment that the files "are well received". This expression is commonly used in Hong Kong English to mean "we have received the files without any problems of delivery, and they are all here".
Despite being so common in Hong Kong, this is not an expression you will find in standard English elsewhere in the world.
The word well here is an adverb, and is closely linked in meaning with the verb that follows it. Consider the sentence
Here the word well provides information about the action of the verb. We know that games can be played with various degrees of skill; we can also say 'the game was badly played' if we want to make a negative comment.
Well is generally used with verbs to emphasise the skill of the person or people performing the action. It can usually be replaced with an adverb like badly if we want to emphasise the lack of skill of the actor(s). You can see this contrast in the following examples:
Now let's turn back to our expression "the documents are well received". Does this mean "whoever received the documents was a skilful receiver"? Clearly not: we don't use this expression to praise the person who received the documents!
Can we replace the adverb well with the adverb badly to change the meaning of the sentence from positive to negative, by writing "The documents are badly received"? This is a sentence that doesn't really make much sense. Most people would simply say "we have not received the documents successfully."
These two points show us that 'well received' does not follow the normal pattern of English usage, and that should ring some alarm bells about using it. In summary, 'the documents are well received' is not a good standard English expression; it is Hong Kong English. To change it, consider using expressions like the following:
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About this blog
This blog arises from keeping an eye on English in Hong Kong. I often use signs, notices and advertisements that I see as starting points to write about English issues that commonly challenge Hong Kong writers.