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The Curious Case of “All and Every”

“All, every” which one do I use? What’s more when about all, every, each? Or all, every, whole?

In this article, you will learn all the tricks and understand when to use these two words.

You would not believe how complicated the English language can be for people. Even native speakers of English struggle with our words. You might have encountered some utterance in the wild and are not quite sure what it means.

For example, you don’t really think about the trickery of homophones. Consider the homophones rain, reign, and rein. They all sound the same but have wildly different meanings. One ruins your picnic, the other is what kings and queens do, and the last one makes me think of a horse’s mouth.

Don’t even get me started on homonyms. You mean to tell me that read and read are spelled the same but are pronounced differently? As in “you just read the last sentence, and you are about to read the next one.” That’s tricky!
What about the rule “i before e, except after c”? But even that rule is not a hard and fast one.

Look, I don’t want to inveigh on the English language. I have to carefully weigh my observations. That vein of thought makes me seem unneighborly or impolite. In 2009,  
 –Professor of Linguistics at the University Edinburgh–said that the rule was really “I before e except after c when the sound is ee.” English loves its rules.

The things that make English one of the most challenging languages in the world to master also make it incredibly fun. There are rules stacked on top of regulations. In this article, I want to talk to you about the laws governing the words “all” and “every.”

Why in the world does it matter? Well, it doesn’t really matter in the broader context of the world. Knowing that all things happen for a reason won’t help if you need to change your tire. Every time an alien invasion happens, you won’t wow the Martians with your linguistic skills.

Or maybe you will? Perhaps knowing the difference between “all” and “every” will be your saving grace. It might be the difference between “Kill all humans!” and “Kill every human who doesn’t know the rules for determiners!”

The distinction matters.

At a minimum, every time you hear the words, your brain will auto-magically identify them. (Just like in the read and read example).

If nothing else, you can drop all these little grammar nuggets on your friends and family or even a complete stranger. They will bask in the glory of your linguistic prowess.

Let’s begin: “all” and “every” is a special kind of determiner. A determiner is a word placed in front of a noun to clarify what a noun is talking about.
Determiners in English include:

  • articles
  • difference words
  • distributives
  • numbers
  • pronouns
  • quantifiers

“All” and “every” are called distributive determiners (DDs). A distributive determiner describes a group of people or things. The DDs also talk about individual members of the group.
The most common DDs are:

  • all
  • both, either, and neither
  • each and every
  • half

In future articles, we will check out the other DDs. Back to “all” and “every”!

When do I use “all” or “every”?

“All” talks about the whole group of people or things. “Every” talks about the members of a group as individuals.

You use “all” and “every” when counting the number of something. “All is the whole group.” “Every” is talking about the individual members or each member of the entire group.

For example:

  • Taco Tuesday was a hit with all the employees.
  • Taco Tuesday was a hit with every employee.

In the example, we shift the focus from the whole group of employees to every single employee.

Here is another example, but with cats.

 All cats are lovable jerks.  talking about the whole group of cats
 Every cat is a lovable jerk.  laser-focused on individual members of the group

You can use “all” all by itself with no noun. Check out this beautiful line of prose by David Guterson from his book Snow Falling on Cedars:

If we love each other, we’re safe from it all. Love is the biggest thing there is.

The word all refers to the whole group of things that they can be safe from. Love protects them from every single thing.
Another example from the literary world is Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick:
I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.

Again, the use of all refers to the whole group of what may “be coming.”
You cannot use “every” without a noun. Instead, you have to rely on some helpers. We use:

  • everyone
  • everybody
  • everything

This is what that the rule looks like in practice:

  • Dinner is in our kitchen, and all are invited. (The word that follows all is a transitive verb)
  • Everyone can come to dinner. (“Every” needs the helper “one.”)

To be fair, “all” and “every” are similar, but we leverage them differently. It’s like the similarities between a tiger and a lion. Yes, they are both big cats. But tigers live in India, and lions live in Africa. Tigers have stripes, and lions are tawny.

They belong to the same species, Panthera, but are different species. Similarly, the words “all” and “every” belong to the same genus, DDs, but they are another species.

All goes with plural and uncountable nouns, while “every” hangs out with singular nouns.

plural/uncountable singular/countable
 All burritos will fit in my belly  Every burrito on this plate will fit in my belly.
 All gear must be returned at the summit.  Every piece of gear must be returned at the summit.
 I will win with you all!  I will win with everyone! (needs the helper)

When I said that it might not matter if you know the different uses between “all” and “every,” I was lying. You don’t want to stumble and bumble when talking.

Like for example, it’s good to know that we can use all before other determiners. It is verboten to use “all” with determiners. I feel like I should clutch my pearls at the thought.

This is what I mean (in this example, I can talk to dogs):

  • I invited all my dog friends over for my birthday party. Kind of weird but grammatically correct.
  • I invited every my dog friends over for my birthday party. Still weird, but also, it sounds clunky and is not grammatically correct.

Even your computer knows this rule! If you type in the sentence (I invited every my dog friends…) into any word processor, you will get that little blue line that tells you, “you messed up!”

“All” works well with articles too! Remember, the definite article is the word “the,” and indefinite articles are the words “a” and “an.” These little guys are quirky adjectives. While “all” works, every doesn’t:

You would say, “It has all the chocolate I could ever want,” not “It has every the chocolate I could ever want.” It could have everything you want. It could even be that chocolate is everything to you. But it is never alright, or even a slight right to combine “every” with an article.

Here is another example of the right and wrong use of all and all/every + article.

  • It has all the colors of the rainbow. (good)
  • It has every the colors of the rainbow (not good)
  • It has every color of the rainbow. (good)

“All” and “every” control the fabric of space-time. Well, the words describe the time in entirely different ways at least:

  • The difference between all day at home and every day at home is 8,736 hours.
  • For me, I am thankful to have only spent all working, not every week working! I had time to go to the beach.
  • Spending all day at the beach and every day at the beach is the difference between being sunkissed and sunburnt.

Just don’t do it! This is when you shouldn’t use “every.” This is my all-time list, sure to get you every time:

#1 Don’t use every before determiners–> She smelled all her flowers. Never, she smelled every her flowers.

#2 If you don’t know, don’t use every–>All the sand in the world weighs roughly 7.5 million metric tons. Never, every the and in the world weighs approximately 7.5 million metric tons.

#3 No noun? No “every.” We use:

  • everybody
  • everyone
  • everything

As a review:

  • “All” talks about the whole group of people or things.
  • “Every” talks about the members of a group as individuals.

I hope that all the time spent learning about “all” and “every” was everything you hoped for. Every time you read, you know a little more, and all the neurons in your brain cheer.

Need more practice? Click here to check out our ELA Common Core Workbooks.

Looking to boost math and reading scores for students from grades Kindergarten through 8th grade? Check out our award-winning online learning platform that includes video lessons, online quizzes, printable worksheets, and more!

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