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I often tend to say something like

Who all is coming to the movies?

And my friends correct me that I should be saying

Who all are coming to the movies?

So which one is correct?

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2  
FYI it's rather "Southern US English" Who all is coming to the movies? Y'all? –  Joe Blow Jun 22 '11 at 19:13
    
@Joe Guess I got it from reading too many English novels! Anyway thanks for clearing that up! –  Uday Kanth Jun 22 '11 at 19:19

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In (American) dialects that use this variant, "who all" is actually a pronoun in its own right; it's sometimes written "who-all". (Bear in mind that this is an extremely informal usage, and so it's rarely if ever written down at all by the people who actually use it - only by ethnographers and linguists who are studying the dialect, and novelists trying to add a little local color.) The region where it's used overlaps, but isn't exactly contiguous with, the region(s) where "you all" (or "y'all") is common.

In usage, just as "you all" can be treated as a substitute for "you", "who all" takes the place of "who" - so I think you'll find that most American speakers (who would use this construction) would ask Who all is coming to the movies?

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Note who all is coming versus who all are coming - the former is more common, and more importantly, many of the speakers are from different communities. A lot of US speakers for "who all is"; a lot of Indian speakers for "who all are". –  aedia λ Jun 22 '11 at 19:44
    
I also found this discussion that didn't stay on topic long that suggests "who all are coming" might be the Indian English version. –  aedia λ Jun 22 '11 at 19:54
    
@aedia - I'll edit my answer, then, to reflect "in American English usage"... –  MT_Head Jun 22 '11 at 19:59
    
Thanks! I think that's as accurate as we're gonna get right now, unless someone pops out of the woodwork having done a dissertation on who all :) –  aedia λ Jun 22 '11 at 20:05

Both are incorrect.

Who is coming to the movies? or Who wants to come to the movies? is more appropriate.

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Yes, but we're not talking about academic writing here; this is just speaking with people one would go to the movies with. "Who all" expresses something more precise than "who" (namely, the fact that you expect an answer that is multiple people). –  Kosmonaut Jun 22 '11 at 19:13
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It's not an expression I've ever heard in Britain. So perhaps it's colloquial. –  osknows Jun 22 '11 at 19:19
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@Joe - 1000% clear to an American perhaps, to an Australian it is clear but jars. –  dave Jun 22 '11 at 19:58
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@Kosmonaut: The rub is that English doesn't differentiate singular and plural in interrogative pronouns, like it does with subjective, objective, and possessive pronouns. So unlike "y'all" which tries to replace the redundancy of "you" as plural pronoun, there's no comparable redundant plural interrogative pronoun. It's solving a problem that doesn't even exist; it may even be creating a problem to solve. –  Mike DeSimone Jun 22 '11 at 21:00
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@Mike DeSimone: The problem does exist, and it is (from the speaker's perspective): "I want to know who is coming to the movies. I don't just want to know one or some of the people coming to the movies; I want to have the complete list of people coming to the movies". This is where "who all is coming" is useful. –  Kosmonaut Jun 22 '11 at 22:22

MT_Head's answer sounds right to me when it comes to southern US English, but in Indian English, the situation is a little different - "who all are" is the correct plurality for the verb.

I don't think it's correct to categorize the Indian English version of "who all" as a pronoun. At minimum, there is no analogy to "you all", since that isn't a lexical item in any variety of Indian English I've heard (though the sequence "you all" obviously still exists in contexts like "Are you all going to the movies?"). I don't have the linguistic vocabulary to accurately describe what's going on in "who all are going to the movies", but the "all" is sort of a "modifier" here; "who all" doesn't strike me as a discrete lexical item.

Those of you unfamiliar with Indian English may be surprised to learn that "all" can also modify other interrogatives, which is something that I don't believe is a feature of southern US English. For example:

What all did you have for dinner? (fairly common)

Where all did you go on your vacation? (rarer, but still used)

I'm not sure whether I've personally heard "when all", "how all", or "why all", but a quick bit of googling for constructions like "why all are you" does reveal a fair bit of Indian English that uses these other interrogatives with "all" as a modifier.

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We can use all as a modifier in Southern US English in those situations. What all, where all, who all, who all's (for plural of whose), when all all (sorry, haha, couldn't resist) are in common use. I don't think, at least, I use how all or why all nor are they in common usage, but searching online for examples of it, they don't phase me in the slightest. –  guifa Jun 9 at 5:08

Yes the usage of 'who all' and 'you all' seem to be more of a direct translation from one's vernacular to English as far as Indian English is concerned. I state so as far as from what I have read so far I have never come across such a usage by any good authors. So it does seem to me that it is not a part of the formal English that is spoken or written.

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I think that interpreting "who all" as if it were dominated by the word all instead of by the word who misunderstands how the word is used in regional U.S. parlance. Presented with the question

Who [is/are] going with me in my car?

most U.S. English speakers, I think, would choose is over are as the verb to use. The appearance of all in the formulation might seem to alter the logic of the question, but it doesn't. The question

Who all [is/are] going with me in my car?

really amounts to asking

Who among all of you [or among all of the potential riders in the relevant population] is going with me in my car?

With or without the all, most U.S. English speakers who are familiar with the "who all" phrasing will understand the question to be asking idiomatically "Who is doing X?"

Similarly, a parent using the dominant form of U.S. English with regard to this detail of language might ask a crowd of kids at a birthday party

Who wants ice cream?

while a parent using the "who all" form might ask

Who all wants ice cream?

Neither parent is asking which one child wants ice cream; it would be absurd to suppose that only one child among many at a birthday party would express a desire for ice cream. And yet both parents are extremely likely to frame the question as a singular: "Who [all] wants..."

Because I grew up in a part of the United States (southeast Texas) where "who all is..." was very common in informal speech but where "who is..." was essentially the only accepted form in writing and in formal speech, both wordings sound entirely natural to me.

Indeed, in that part of the country, a construction of the form "...are coming to the movies?" would sound right only if it began, not with "Who" but with "Which":

Which of you are coming to the movies?

or likewise

Which of you want ice cream?

I suppose that the shift in this case happens because the "Which of you..." wording (again in U.S. idiomatic speech) implies "Which ones of you..." although "Which of you is..." is also a common form when the intended sense is the singular "Which one of you is..."

As far as I know, there is no idiomatic "which all" wording corresponding to "who all."

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