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I came across the following sentence in some instructions and it almost seems like a double negative to me, yet there are not two negations in it that I see, so I am wondering how to explain what intuitively feels wrong about this sentence:

All of these are not applicable to both events or people.

To me, this is more clearly written as:

Some of these are only applicable to either events or people.

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The sentences do not mean the same thing. –  Daniel Aug 30 '11 at 22:43
    
But the meaning intended is the later, rewrite I gave. –  WilliamKF Aug 30 '11 at 23:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

All... are not is always clunky, and should be replaced with None... is*:

None of these is applicable to both events and people.

Also note that both X or Y is incorrect, and should be replaced with both X and Y.

You created the second example by: 1. replacing not... both with only... either, (which is equivalent) and 2. replacing all with some (which is not equivalent). If you want to keep that changed meaning, your example seems fine:

Some of these are only applicable to either events or people.

*As @Karl points out below, another popular though technically incorrect interpretation of All... are not is Not all... are. If this is the intended meaning, then it would also be a better way to say it:

Not all of these are applicable to both events and people.

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3  
... Except that while "All... are not" should logically mean "None... is", it is very often used to mean "Not all... are". Consider for example the proverb "All that glitters is not gold". Interpreted literally and logically, this is clearly false, since gold glitters. –  Karl Knechtel Aug 31 '11 at 2:42
    
@Karl Incorporated; thanks! –  Daniel Aug 31 '11 at 2:48

Resorting to a tired rule like double-negation is a bad way to explain the problem in the first place. The problem with the sentence isn't that it breaks a rule of grammar, it's that it is confusing. I'm not even sure if your sentence means the same thing as the original one, because I don't know what the original one means.

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Yeah. I think it would be fair to say that if I have to jot down a Venn Diagram to figure out what you are saying, you ought to clarify. –  T.E.D. Sep 2 '11 at 14:01

"All of these are not applicable to both events or people" is grammatically incorrect and it sounds clumsy.

A clearer, cleaner sentence would be:

None of these are applicable to either events or people.

"Some of these are only applicable to either events or people" would not be a valid version for two reasons: the words "all" and "Some" are not synonyms and because the original states that the subject matter are not applicable, where your version shows them to be applicable.

"All" is defined as: the whole of (used in referring to quantity, extent, or duration).

On the other hand, "some" is defined as: unspecified but considerable in number, amount, degree, etc.

However, while it would not be entirely true to the original sentence, you could use "some" in this context:

Some, if not all of these are inapplicable to events or people.

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This is cleaner:

None of these are applicable to events or people.

Here's how we get there: All of these are not applicable to both events or people.

First, "all" is incorrect, as "none" is called for. This gives: None of these are not applicable to both events or people.

The double negative rule eliminates "not," leaving: None of these are applicable to both events or people.

And finally, "both" is unnecessary. Hence: None of these are applicable to events or people.

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