How to verify standard English usage: an explicit guide

I received an interesting question from a reader of the Common Errors in English Usage book:

In the book "Common Errors in English Usage. On page 22... "aswell/as well"
The sentence: "I don't like plastic trees as well as real ones for Christmas."
Shouldn't the sentence read: "...as much as real ones." ??
Do we ever say. "I like something very well." ??.
It is a good question because though it is perfectly acceptable to say "I like sweet potatoes very well," it is indeed more common to say "I like sweet potatoes very much" and far more common to say "I like sweet potatoes a lot."

But take the question at face value. Since it is a bit uncommon to hear "well" used in this way, how can you verify that the usage is employed by sophisticated users of the language? It's always tempting to search the Internet, of course, but the immediate problem is that very little published on the Internet is edited, so a straight Google search is a poor strategy for seeing how "standard" a particular usage is.

It is for this reason I like Google Book search. Ever try it? If you are on the Google home page, you can get there by clicking More on the menu bar:

and then selecting and clicking on Books:

And now when you do your Google search, you will be sifting through results from the extensive library of books that Google has scanned. In other words, everything you see will be from an edited source. You can go to Google book search directly here: http://books.google.com/bkshp?hl=en&tab=wp.

The trick is to get the search term right. For this part I recommend putting a phrase in quotation marks so that the results will be relevant. In this case, it works to put "like very well" in quotes. This at least gets you started, and the results show you that, in fact, there are plenty of examples of this construction. Naturally, you need to look at some of them to see if they are directly applicable to your question.

In this case, the results had an extra element of interest, since I noticed that on the first page, the returns are dominated by a passage from Samuel Pepys, and the other returns were also at least a century old. In other words, this actually looks like a disappearing construction.

Still, it lives on mainly by its negation. When I change the search term to "don't like very well," the results get much more contemporary.

This intuitively makes sense: I would be far more likely to say "I don't like sweet potatoes very well" as opposed to "I like sweet potatoes very well." There is some nuance in usage, but the point is not to decipher all that, the point is just to verify that the usage is common enough and contemporary enough in edited English usage. And the results are in: Yes, a Google book search verifies that "I like sweet potatoes very well" is perfectly standard usage.

That takes care of the syntax. Now for the semantics of the matter, I would add, finally, that yes, I do like sweet potatoes very well. In fact, they were on the menu for dinner just last night.

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