Webster's dictionary lists 'all' as an adjective, adverb, pronoun and noun. Swan's Practical English Usage (3rd edition) spends three pages talking about the usages, but I'm left unsure how to determine the part of speech for 'all.'

Webster gives "He spent his income all on pleasure" as an example of an adverb. If we rewrite it as "He spent all of his income on pleasure," is that still an adverb functioning the same way. Would both of them be adverbs of completeness?

Thanks for the help, Revlis Lain

1 Answer 1


The first example is an adverb, in that it means completely or entirely.

The second example is a determiner, in that it refers to a quantity of a given thing, in this case 'his income'.

They both end up meaning the same thing, they just arrive there in different ways. There's almost always more than one way to skin a cat in English.

  • Including re-classifying 'all' in the first example above as a 'limiting modifier' by analogy with "He spent his income only / solely // mainly on pleasure" as it restricts/derestricts the scope of the application of the verb rather than truly modifying the verb (*He spent his income all // He spent his income wisely). Jul 9, 2014 at 9:24
  • Hmmm, is a limiting modifier just another way to say its completeness is its limitation: like, a tree is a tree because it is it isn't. Or am I misunderstanding? Jul 9, 2014 at 10:09
  • 'Limiting modifier' is a compound noun. Grammar Monster has a brief introduction; you can search for better treatments. Jul 9, 2014 at 10:42
  • I don't mean to be argumentative. I thoroughly appreciate the discussion. I do have some further confusion. I felt the Grammar Monster article, due to the brevity, to not be of much help. I searched a few other sites and they talked about limiting modifiers being adjectives and adverbs. I also couldn't find any examples on the internet using 'all' as a limiting modifier although I totally get how it could go that way. My consternation stems from if 'all' is seen as a limiting modifier (compound noun?, adverb?, adj?), then how do we differentiate that from an adverb of completeness? Jul 10, 2014 at 2:16

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