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If there are two of something, can you say "all of" instead of "both of"?

For example, if an email is addressed to two people, and you start off with:

This is to inform you, etc., etc.

Is that at all appropriate?

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migrated from writers.stackexchange.com Feb 18 '11 at 21:30

This question came from our site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers.

You can say "all" even if there is only one, or none at all. For my income tax, I am to list all of my dependents. It is possible that I have none. – GEdgar Apr 15 '12 at 1:24
@GEdgar: I disagree. The Taxman only specifies that you must list all your dependents, because he doesn't know how many (if any) you have - but it might be more than two. A cop would never say "Raise all your hands" to a single robber (although he might say "Raise both your hands" if he knew he wasn't dealing with a one-armed bandit! :). – FumbleFingers Apr 15 '12 at 14:00
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would say use "All" if you have three or more. If there are only two addressees, just name them.

"To: Dick@home.com, Jane@home.com

From: Dad@home.com

Re: Doghouse plans

Dear Dick and Jane,

Please let me know if you have reviewed the plans for Spot's new doghouse. The contractor will be arriving Monday and we need to have any changes settled before then.

Regards, Dad."

"To: Dick@home.com, Jane@home.com, Dad@home.com, Mom@home.com

From: Spot@home.com

Re: Doghouse plans


Not to hurry you or anything, but it has been raining for the last three days, and Grandmom has been complaining about my bivouacking under the kitchen table. The sooner we can get this thing built, the faster you can get me out of the house so I'm not stinking up the kitchen with the smell of wet dog.

Bark bark, Spot"

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That is a good alternative – Bob Feb 18 '11 at 21:11

Given that email typically takes on a conversational tone, sure. If the email (or letter) is more formal, perhaps use an alternative.

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The example usage (an email sent to just two people) is probably a bad choice. Most recipients (if they could see that only one other person was cc'd in) would probably feel flattered.

Assuming the sender was competent in the English language, the only logical explanation would be that the writer had originally intended to address several others - but before clicking on "Send", had decided that only our flattered recipient and one other were worthy of being communicated with.

Outside of certain dialectal contexts where you all / y'all implies plural (largely because we no longer use "thou" for singular), "all" always implies more than two (as does several).

*There were only two answers to this question, and they were all unsatisfactory.

* denotes "marked" (i.e. - non-standard, unacceptable) usage.

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