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Let's imagine, I'm speaking about someone's three specific cars, which are over there, there, and there. Now I'm saying that I have installed a new sound system in all of them. Which is right:

  • [...] I have installed a new sound system in all the three cars.
  • [...] I have installed a new sound system in all three cars.
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As it stands, there seems little logical reason to discount either variant, but the 'the' would seldom if ever be used in practice. "I have installed a new sound system in all the three cars that were brought in" doesn't sound unidiomatic, but the 'the' could equally well be omitted in this case. –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '13 at 9:56
    
@mplungjan ... 'all the cars', 'all of the cars', 'each of the cars', 'each of the three cars' sound more natural than 'all of the 3 cars' (and certainly 'all the three cars'). –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '13 at 10:00
    
there are maybe more cars, but I'm speaking only about three of them (which I have specified before) –  lol Jun 19 '13 at 10:03
    
lol, If that's the case, then I'd say, "...in all three of the cars." Incidentally, this might be a question more appropriate for ELL. –  J.R. Jun 19 '13 at 10:22
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All three cars implies that there are only three cars. Likewise all the three cars, all of the 3 cars, etc. all imply there are only 3 cars. If you are trying to refer to 3 cars out of, say, 10 cars, then (1) omit all, and (2) say three of the cars. –  TrevorD Jun 19 '13 at 10:57
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3 Answers 3

As TrevorD says, all three cars implies that there are only three cars. Three of the cars would be the best option if you are referring to three out of several cars. All the three cars or all of the three cars are both grammatically correct, but sound cumbersome. All three cars already implies that you are referring to specific cars; you don't need the article to clarify that these aren't just any cars.

I would say that your best options are all three cars, three of the cars, or each of [the] three cars, depending on the context.

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All three cars is idiomatic. All the three cars is perfectly grammatical: to me it has an implication that you have already somehow designated three particular cars from a larger set. This possibility is not implied by all three cars (though it's not excluded by it either).

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There is a great deal of variation in the number of syllables in quantifier phrases. Quantifiers like many, few, all, some, each, every, lots, etc may require an article before the quantifier (a lot) or after a preposition (many men/many of the men/*many of men), may require a preposition (*a lot men) or disallow it (*every of them), or make it optional.

All, in particular, allows an optional of, mostly, I suspect, to give a short word with a big meaning a little more bulk with an extra syllable. So the following noun phrases are all grammatical and equivalent in meaning, but not equally ponderous:

  • All three cars ~ All the three cars ~ All three of the cars ~ All of them: those three cars
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