Imagine this: you’re in a classroom, reviewing the study guide to an exam. Several of the answer choices to one question seem similar, leaving you unclear about whether this question actually has more than one answer. You’d like clarification; at this moment, you may find yourself asking, is it all is or all are correct?
The word “all” can be used to represent either a singular or plural noun. Though you would typically say “all are correct” when referring to multiple items that are correct, there are instances in which it’s more grammatically correct to say “all is.” If, for instance, the word “all” represents a singular noun, you would say “all is correct.”
In the above example, because “all” functions in the place of the plural word “answers,” it would be more appropriate to say “all are correct.” However, not every case is quite so easy. Read on to learn more about the history of this word, as well as how you can best use it.
History of the Word “All”
Did you know that the word “all” is one of the oldest words in the English language? While many of the words we use today actually have a history in France, Italy, or Spain, the word “all” dates back to the original Germanic roots of Old English. If that doesn’t prove how vital this word has always been to everyday speech, little else will!
This word comes from the Old English term “eall,” which meant “fully,” “wholly,” or “entirely.” Most commonly, the Anglo-Saxons used this word in addition to other terms and phrases, creating compound words meant to indicate something had reached its greatest, most “whole” version (source).
For this reason, they frequently used “eall” in religious settings when describing the “all-holy,” “all-powerful,” or “all-mighty” God.
Adding “All” to Words
This tradition of using the word “all” to enhance other words carried on through the ages. In Middle and Modern English, it became incredibly common to see this word in the creation of popular slang.
Dating back to the 14th century, people would use the phrase “at all” in place of saying “in any way.” The early 1900s saw the introduction of the phrase “all clear” as an indicator that there was no immediate danger. Today, saying that something is “all right” or “alright” means that it’s not in any way unpleasant or offensive.
In addition to its use as a way to enhance the meaning of other words, “all” can work on its own to fully take the place of another noun. With such a long history and wide variety of uses, it’s no wonder that there remains some confusion over how to use this term!
Is It “All Is” or “All Are?”
When deciding whether or not to say “is” or “are,” you should typically look and see whether the primary noun in the sentence is singular or plural. Usually a straightforward approach, this method can become tricky in instances in which you’re left unsure whether the noun itself is singular or plural.
“All” is one of these more complicated words. Because you can use it as either a countable or uncountable noun, we can represent it as either a singular or plural noun. While in most instances, you should say “all are” correct, there will occasionally be instances in which you should say “all is correct” instead.
To see whether or not you say “all is” or “all are,” you should first stop to consider what “all” is substituting. If you are using “all” in the place of a singular, uncountable object, you should use it in combination with the word “is” (source).
Uncountable nouns are usually those that exist as ideas, feelings, or concepts rather than tangible objects in the real world. Uncountable nouns can also simply be nouns that are difficult to count, like “sand” or “soup.” Except in very rare instances, we refer to these words in the singular.
Let’s practice using the word “all” with the words below.
- All the music at the concert is fantastic.
- I was so hungry I thought all the soup was absolutely delicious.
- All the air is clear on the coast, where there is far less pollution.
- Though it’s unpleasant to deal with, all her anger is justified.
- It’s been hard work, but all the research is for a good cause.
- All the rice is perfectly seasoned.
- Be sure that all the tea is sweetened before they add ice.
In each of the above examples, it’s clear why we should use the word “is.” Because we use the nouns as uncountable and singular, they are best to pair with this verb.
However, this process gets a little trickier when you remove the verb itself. Look below:
- All the music at the concert is fantastic.
- All is fantastic.
Without the context provided by the nouns themselves, the use of the word “is” makes far less sense. Remember that when writing or speaking, it’s best to keep all the necessary context when using “all” to enhance or take the place of uncountable nouns!
When using the word “all” to enhance a countable noun, the verb “are” is appropriate.
As the term might suggest, a countable noun is just that: a person, place, or thing that we can count. Because most nouns are countable, generally, you’ll say “all are” rather than “all is.”
Look below to see a few examples:
- All the cats are running from one room to the next.
- While picking up trash, she makes sure all the bottles are thrown in the recycling.
- All the students are working hard to keep their grades up.
- The child makes sure all her dolls are stacked neatly at the end of her bed.
- All the shoes are in desperate need of cleaning; they smell!
- The players make sure all jerseys are clean before the upcoming game.
In each of the above examples, the word “all” enhances a plural noun. As such, the word “are” follows them. The same rule applies when using the word as a substitute for the nouns as well.
If you’re still a bit confused, don’t feel bad. Subject-verb agreement is one of the trickiest aspects of the English language to master, and doing so takes time. To learn more about how to best pair advanced nouns with their appropriate subject, check out this article: “Everyone Is or Everyone Are: Which is Correct?”
What Is a Determiner?
Determiners have an essential role in the English language. We place them in front of other nouns to clarify — or “determine” — which noun precisely the speaker is describing. For example, when you use the word “all” to indicate better which noun the verb is addressing, you are using it as a determiner.
Let’s take a closer look:
- All of the cows in the pasture are grazing in the sunshine.
In the above example, we used “all” as a determiner, clarifying that, although there are many cows in this particular field, all are grazing together simultaneously.
Though “all” is one of the most common determiners in English, it’s not the only one. Skim through the chart below to see what other words you can use as determiners (source).
|Type of Article
|Introduces a specific noun
|I went to the store to get milk, but I left without the item I needed.
|Introduces a nonspecific noun
|With a good attitude, anything is possible. Without an optimistic outlook, you’ll likely get frustrated.
|Points to a noun that it has replaced
|This is my absolute favorite song! I had a lot of fun at that concert. Those instruments are incredibly difficult to play.
|Replaces a possessive noun
|Will you pass me my hat and coat before I leave? Our dog is known throughout the neighborhood for digging through the trash. Your daughter is so well behaved!
|Specifies the nonspecific amounts of nouns
|A few of the children helped their elderly neighbors with lawn work. While many of the young children were whiny and selfish, others were mature beyond their years. Do you know any of the answers, or are you completely confused?
|Specifies the amount of a noun
|I’ll order two meals and save one for dinner tomorrow.
|Indicates how a group of nouns is divided
|All the ideas are great additions to the conversation. Each student had a chance to speak during class discussions. Neither of the boys agreed on what would be the best solution, so we reached a compromise instead.
|Distinguishes between different nouns
|Other young kids tend to be less mature than some. Another child might have been less polite, but I appreciate your good manners.
|Used before a determiner in asking a question
|What is your favorite day for study hall?
As you likely noticed in the examples above, we don’t have to limit a sentence to a single determiner. In fact, many will use multiple determiners as a way to increase clarity and better help readers understand a sentence.
It’s vital to keep in mind that, above all, determiners like “all” are intended to clear up confusion. For this reason, speakers and writers of the English language must understand the differences between “all” and other, similar determiners.
Difference Between “All,” “Each,” and “Every”
It’s no wonder that people easily confuse the words “all,” “each,” and “every.” In addition to being determiners, all these words fall under the category of distributives, meaning we use each term to talk about how and if a group is divided.
Though each of these words performs a similar role within a sentence, the specific way they work differs.
We use “all” to express that every noun within a group commits the same action or falls under the same description. You’ve already seen how this word works to capture a group as a whole.
“Each” points out a single member of the group. Thus, even if the group is completing the same action, the distributor “each” shows that the members are participating in that activity individually.
We use “every” in a very similar way. These words emphasize the fact that even if a group is taking a similar action, “every” member is doing so on their own or in a slightly different way.
Check out these examples:
- All the band members are nervous about the upcoming concert.
- Each player adjusts and shines his instrument before the start of the show.
- Every person must practice to ensure that he is playing to the best of his ability.
In the above sentences, you can see that, although every member functions together in a band, each player is still an individual. They may all be adjusting their instruments, but each band member plays a different instrument and a different role.
While the word “all” emphasizes their role as a collective group, “each” and “every” emphasizes their roles as individuals.
Let’s check out another, simpler example:
- All of the swimmers dive into the water.
- Each of the swimmers dives into the water.
- Every swimmer dives into the water.
All three sentences reference the same group, but each determiner treats the subject slightly differently. “All” references the swimmers as a group, while “each” and “every” treat the swimmers more as individuals who happen to be performing the same action. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Though this might seem confusing at first, you can come to learn the nuances of these similar words with a little practice.
It’s really no wonder that “all” can be a confusing term to master. Depending on how exactly you use it within a sentence, this word can play several different roles. As such, there’s really no hard-and-fast rule about what verb you should always pair with this term.
When using the word “all,” you should consider the context around it. If you’re using it to express a singular noun, you should say “all is correct,” but if that noun is plural, you’d be better off saying “all are correct.”
Though most cases are going to include this word in the plural, the best way to understand this age-old word is to understand the context around its use.