4

All of the women in the district did not vote for the lone female candidate.

What, if any, is the semantic problem in the above sentence?

I was suggested the following sentence by my senior peers.

“Not all of the women in the district voted for the lone female candidate.”

  • This form (which has always seemed odd to me) is sanctioned by venerable usage, in particular in the proverb "All that glisters is not gold". In general I prefer paraphrases like your second sentence. – Colin Fine Nov 18 '14 at 22:03
  • @ColinFine Somehow I do not find "All that glisters is not gold" in any way similar to "All of the women in the district did not vote." Neither syntactically nor semantically. – Kris Nov 19 '14 at 7:01
  • Aditya, do not use the irregular form "All of the women in the district did not vote" -- it is neither correct not makes proper sense. – Kris Nov 19 '14 at 7:03
  • Thank you and all, and i never imagined i could get such cogent explanation. ELU is into great hands and would remain the #1...No competition et al. – adityasrivastav Nov 19 '14 at 13:21
  • @Kris: I find the two exactly parallel in the relevant features: All ... [neg vb], with its attendant ambiguity of whether the all is within the scope of the not or not. But Aditya's first example is neither irregular, nor incorrect, nor fails to make sense. It is merely ambiguous. – Colin Fine Nov 19 '14 at 14:35
4

The question, as posed, is

  • Is it wrong to use “not” in sentences that have an “all…not” form?

and the answer, as far as I can reckon it, is that it's not.
It is never wrong to use not. If that's what you mean, of course.

I don't quite understand what you mean by sentences that have an “all…not” form,
but I don't imagine you do, either. Description of syntactic structures is hard.

What's going on in the example question

  • All of the women in the district did not vote for the lone female candidate.

is that there is a quantifier (all) and a negative (not) in the same proposition,
and when that happens there occurs what is called a Quantifier-Negative Ambiguity.
That is, there are two possible ways in which the negative and the quantifier can interact.

Either it means All Women (Not Vote X) [i.e, "All the women voted non-X"], or
it means Not (All Women Vote X) [i.e, "All the women voted X" is False -- someone voted non-X].

This ambiguity is likely and often unavoidable in all of the following environments:

because quantifiers, negatives, and modals are all logical operators which bind a focus.

3

The problem is that the intended meaning is not clear. The intended meaning could have been:

Not all of the women in the district voted for the lone female candidate,
Some' but not all, of the women in the district voted for the lone female candidate

or

All of the women in the district voted against the lone female candidate, or abstained.

2

When I read your first sentence, I took the meaning to be "None of the women in the district voted for the lone female candidate." If this is not your intended meaning, then the sentence requires clarification. I do not agree with your peers' suggestion, as it adds an assumption to the original sentence (like I did above). As to the actual question, "all nouns did not verb" equates to "No nouns verbed" in my mind. I just used verbed. Sigh.

  • As John Lawler says, that is one possible interpretation of "all nouns did not verb", but not the only one. – Colin Fine Nov 19 '14 at 14:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.