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Michael IELTS Band 9
Professional Teacher
The grammar of "all"

Recently, I have been noticing mistakes from students in their use of the word "all". The most common mistake has been to use it as a subject or object pronoun instead of "everything".

For example: 

1. "Whenever I come into your bedroom, everything is in a mess!"  

2. "When I spilt the beer over the table and over my friend, everyone/everybody looked at me and laughed"

("all" is wrong in both cases because the situations are informal)

3. "Silent night, holy night.  All is calm.  All is bright"
("All" is correct here because the language is literary.  The words may be familiar to some people!)

There is a fantastic summary of the grammar of "all" here.  

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/all

It's a good reference if you are not sure about your use of "all".  I recommend using it for checking and correcting yourself rather than trying to learn all the rules together as a separate exercise.

Do you have difficulty when using "all" or when choosing between "all" and "everything/everyone"?


Sep 7, 2016 7:43 AM
Comments · 5

Thanks Sudeep. I realise that I had another "all" - "all over the table".  I didn't want to focus on this adverbial use of "all" and so I think I have confused you. 

It's OK to say "all over" the table, world, the newspapers etc.

"all" here means "completely".

September 7, 2016

Thank you very much,Michael,for the link:)It is really good and value to read for the learner like me.

BTW,when I first read your 2 examples,it sounded good and I got no errors unless you specified there were.So in the informal situations like this ,we shouldn't use "all"?But in the 2nd example if I'll not use all then should I go for only "When I split the beer on the table"?

Please clear my doubt regarding this.Thank you:)

September 7, 2016

I wonder if it might not be safer to advise learners to avoid using "all" as a pronoun altogether, though? It might be worth bringing up in terms of awareness-raising in understanding, just not in terms of producing it themselves. Speaking personally, there are a few areas of language around which I put a "do not enter" rope when discussing with learners, my recent discussion post on connected speech being an example. Some issues are real Pandora's boxes!

Honestly, I'm not altogether surprised by the lack of response, people tend to think of "grammar" and go "yuck", which is an unfortunate reflection of how grammar is taught in most places. I'm sure those who view this will benefit greatly, however. You never know, it might pick up.

September 7, 2016

Thanks, Alan.  Nice to receive your comment - I thought that it might interest students more than it has.

In my view, I think that students will see "all" used as a pronoun sufficiently often (especially in literature) that it's good to tell them that it is a literary usage which is still acceptable in modern English.

e.g. "That morning, all was peaceful in the Chambers household, when suddenly...."

However, I wouldn't expect students below C2 level to be able to use "all" as a pronoun convincingly.

I wonder if perhaps we in the UK like using "all" as a pronoun more often than Americans.


September 7, 2016

Great discussion, Michael. This kind of thing is priceless for learners.


I'm personally a little suspicious of "all" being used as a pronoun at all. The use of "All" in #3 is very old-fashioned (like "good tidings we bring" in the carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas").

Even in the guide's examples of "all" as a pronoun, (1) "All were happy with the outcome." sounds a little stuffy, (2) "All will be revealed" is a fixed expression, and the other two examples of the pronomial "all" look just like ellipsis to me (ellipsis is a really hard subject to teach, at least I find).


If you feel I'm wrong feel free to disagree, I'd be happy to be educated. In any case it's an excellent guide to "all" overall.

September 7, 2016
Michael IELTS Band 9
Language Skills
English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Learning Language
German, Italian