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I read the following sentence in Chicago Sun-Times's review of the movie In Time:

We are all of us engaged in the trade of buying and selling time.

The sentence sounds grammatically weird to me. It seems to me that it should be:

All of us are engaged in the trade of buying and selling time.

Another way for me to make any sense of this sentence is adding a couple of dashes (or maybe commas, I'm not good at punctiation):

We are — all of us — constantly engaged in the trade of buying and selling time.

Or does "all of us" have an adverbial meaning? Or maybe "we are all of us" is a set phrase? Please throw some light on this curious issue :)

Update: If it is a grammatically correct sentence, how is it parsed? I assume "We" is the subject, "are engaged" is the predicate. What is the function of "all of us"?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I agree that it sounds curiously redundant. The "of us" could be removed from any or all of these sentences, and the remainder would convey essentially the same meaning:

We are, all of us, in the grip of various philosophical assumptions, presuppositions, hypotheses, even theories, about the way the world is, and about what matters in life. (M. Rowlands)

We are all of us bound to work toward this end. (T. Roosevelt)

We are sculptures and recordings and movement and canvas stretched, and we are all of us works of art. (K. Curren)

I suppose the redundancy is intended emphasize or reiterate that whatever follows has some universal or all-inclusive quality - although the scope of that inclusiveness depends on the context:

Although our experiences are different we share a common heritage of oppression: we are, all of us, women. (Z. Dé Ishtar)

I would prefer to offset the "all of us" with commas, but as FumbleFingers pointed out, that seems to be a matter of personal preference.

Out of curiousity, I repeated variations of the "we are all of us" search, using "we will all of us" and "we are both of us," to see if those phrases were also found. Both turned up plenty of results, mixed with and without commas (and one made a rather humorous parenthetical exclusion to the inclusiveness of the verbiage):

We are both of us nice of temper; we are both apt to kindle, and warm of resentment. (H. Godwin)

We are, both of us, perfectly capable of taking all sorts of chances. (J. Katzenbach)

By then it will be too late. We will, all of us, have made our fortunes by then. (F. Norris)

My own prejudice is that we will all of us (except, let it be quickly admitted, personal injury lawyers) be better off under no-fault than under traditional tort liability. (H. Ross)

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Thank you for your answer. I have question, though. When you say: All of us are human, you hit 'All'; when you say we're all human, you hit 'all'; when you say, "We are, all of us, human" you hit Are. Is it OK to say "We are all of us human" hitting 'all'? Or regardless of whether there are commas, they are still implied and we hit the 'are'? Hope the question makes sense –  Armen Ծիրունյան Mar 1 '12 at 17:09
    
@ArmenTsirunyan: By hit, do you mean accentuate? That would depend on the context. Normally, I'd say yes, but it's also dependent on what the speaker is trying to emphasize. I might easily say, "We're all HUMAN," if I was trying to emphasize our humanity, rather than the fact that our humanity applied to ALL of us. As for "We are, all of us, human," I think both the "are" and the "all" both get hit, at least that's how I imagine it verbalized in my mind. –  J.R. Mar 1 '12 at 20:49

I don't see anything wrong with "We are all of us", and most of the 9000-odd written instances on that link are structurally equivalent to OP's context, so obviously lots of other people feel the same.

In quite a few cases, "all of us" is demarcated by commas, but this isn't grammatically required. And whilst I won't say OP's demarcation by dashes is "incorrect", it's not common (neither is demarcation by brackets, come to that - but it is plausible, if ungainly).

I wouldn't say "we are all of us" is a set phrase, but "all of us" could certainly be seen as adverbially modifying "are". Or you could just see it as an alternative noun phrase restating "we" in different words. At this level of detail, I feel syntactic/grammatical analysis doesn't enlighten us much.

EDIT: To clarify - "all of us" could be directly replaced by, for example, "collectively". So if you want to see it as an adverbial phrase modifying "are", that's fine. Equally, you can directly map the syntactic role of "all of us" to "the people of the United States", (restatement / clarification of "we") as per the preamble to that country's constitution:

"We, the people of the United States..."

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Is it also OK to say "They are all of the them going to jail"? It seems to me that the sentence has two subjects, which aren't coordinated either by punctuation or by a conjunction... That's what seems wrong to me –  Armen Ծիրունյան Mar 1 '12 at 16:03
    
I can't grammatically parse the sentence. We is the subject. What is all of us? –  Armen Ծիրունյան Mar 1 '12 at 16:05
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@FumbleFingers isn't this an adverbial adjunct? –  karthik Mar 1 '12 at 16:16
    
@FumbleFingers: I don't see a problem with We, the people... are engaged in something. But if it were We are the people... engaged in something, I'd be puzzled, just like in this case. Do you see where my confusion comes from? –  Armen Ծիրունյան Mar 1 '12 at 16:18
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@Mark Beadles: Yeah - I pretty much guessed that. With a different question/questioner it might be different, but here I really do think Armen stands to be more enlightened if he concentrates on the meaning, rather than the grammar as such. –  FumbleFingers Mar 1 '12 at 17:24

I've always accepted "we are all of us" as a way to emphasize that the predicate applies to literally everyone. I usually see it in contexts where "we are all" could be taken to me "most everyone," and the addition of "of us" clarifies that, yes indeed, it applies to every single person without exception.

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