15
  1. "We are all mad."

  2. "We all are mad."

I think each of these conveys the same idea. Besides this, we can use "we are all" alone. I hear the first one more frequently.

Does the second one sound worse to a native speaker? I wonder about this.

Note: I'm not a native speaker.

2
  • 1
    They do not mean precisely the same. See usage examples.
    – Kris
    Sep 26, 2013 at 8:24
  • 1
    First one is definitely more prevalent, but I think the second has more elegance about it. Use that and you are likely to impress your listener!
    – user52780
    Sep 26, 2013 at 9:34

4 Answers 4

11

Both are grammatical, but the first is more usual. We are all is much more frequent than we all are in both the Corpus of Contemporary American English and in the British National Corpus. There are, however, some contexts where we all are would be used. The answer to the question Who is responsible? might be We all are, and not We are all.

That apart, as a non-native speaker, you would be wise to stick to We are all when something else follows.

9

All is a quantifier that allows the rule of Quantifier Float, which moves a quantifier from its normal position near its focus constituent to an adverbial position.

  • All the men left. == Q-Float => The men all left.
  • All the men have been seen. == Q-Float => The men have all been seen.

  • Each of the men left. == Q-Float => The men each left.

  • Each man has left. == Q-Float => The men have each left.

In the original sentence Q-Float can move all to either of two places:

  • All of us are mad. (original, with all quantifying us)
  • We all are mad.
  • We are all mad.

All of these are grammatical, and mean the same thing.
These all are grammatical and mean the same thing.
These are all grammatical and mean the same thing.

2
  • When spoken, do we actually pronounce them identically? Exactly as the emphasis in style (boldface) above, the emphasis in pronunciation too stays with all, carrying with it the focus. Each therefore conveys a different "connotation" or at least a different point of emphasis. Correspondingly, the structures have their respective uses.
    – Kris
    Sep 28, 2013 at 7:54
  • When spoken, we are is almost always contracted to we're. Just like I am, which is very rare as two words in speech. Not contracting is so unusual that it draws attention to the sentence. Sep 28, 2013 at 12:58
3

This is a case in which it can be useful to talk about denotation and connotation.

Each of these ways of saying it is grammatically correct, and has the same fundamental content. The denotation, or in other words, the specific, explicit meaning is the same. The denotation can also be thought of as the factual content of the statement.

On the other hand, the connotation of each tends to be somewhat different. Connotation refers to the implied, suggested, or secondary meanings which are, in a sense, "hidden" below the surface of the words. In English, merely adjusting word order can significantly change the connotation of a sentence without changing its factual, denotative meaning. To put this more simply, yes, it can sound different to say it with a different word order, and thereby suggest or imply something different from what the other word order implies. But no, that does not mean that one sounds worse or wrong. They simply have different uses.

Now, in this case, just exactly what is implied by the two different word orders is something I won't go into at length, but I will say that in my opinion the first usually does have a more concrete, definitive, factual quality about it, whereas the second can be, and sometimes is, used for more eloquent, or sometimes even poetic, locutions.

2
  • A reasonable personal connotation. However, others will differ, since making fine distinctions between alternative and semantically identical syntactic variants is very idiosyncratic; most people don't make the same judgements. Sep 28, 2013 at 13:01
  • 1
    @JohnLawler I agree enthusiastically with that comment, Professor, which is why I tried to include a handful of qualifiers in my last paragraph. For the sake of others reading these comments, I'll add that context, intention, vocal intonations (when the words are spoken, of course), and other factors greatly influence the eventual conveyed meaning in each case (or at least what one hopes was conveyed). :) Sep 28, 2013 at 16:58
1

Though both are grammatically correct, but have different meanings. 'We are all mad,' means, 'We are totally mad.' And 'We all are mad,' means, 'All of us are mad.'

2
  • why is this downvoted?
    – asgs
    Apr 24, 2017 at 19:41
  • Nice answer I upvote it May 2, 2019 at 14:40

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