I'm a studying English using a book titled "Grammar in use".

I've learned that "all day" means "the complete day from beginning to end".

The book says, "Note that we say "all day" (not "all the day")".

I know that we can say "all the ____", e.g. "all the time", "all the flowers", etc.

However, I want to know why the book states that we can't say "all the day".

So — why can't we?

  • 3
    There are some circumstances in which one might correctly use all the day, but they are far less frequent than all day. You will find quite a lot of references to this subject on the internet. As a mere native speaker I am afraid I am not qualified to say WHY the definite article gets dropped in certain expressions.
    – WS2
    Feb 1 '15 at 9:16
  • 1
    It's certainly not ungrammatical to say "all the day" (or "all of the day"), but it's not current idiomatic usage. That is. native speakers generally don't write it that way. Likewise with "all the night". I leave it to true linguists to explain how or why this came to be. Feb 1 '15 at 9:29
  • 2
    some historical trends books.google.com/ngrams/… Feb 1 '15 at 9:30
  • 1
    I bin workin on the railroad, all the livelong day...
    – GEdgar
    Feb 1 '15 at 14:41

As WS2 observes, "all the day" does occur in certain circumstances where native English speakers hear it without batting an eye—chiefly (as GEdgar suggests) in traditional folk songs. One is "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (and "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You," sung to the same tune):

I've been working on the railroad [or "The eyes of Texas are upon you"], all the livelong day

Another is "Polly Wolly Doodle":

Oh, I went down South for to see my Sal

Sing Polly wolly doodle all the day

My Sal, she is a spunky gal

Sing Polly wolly doodle all the day

To like effect is the Australian verse "Hoeing and Stumping" by John Lane:

Hoeing weeds on Cosme land

Chip, chip, chipping all the day,

Bending back and blist'ring hand

Chip, chip, chipping all the day

And from "Been Listenin' All the Day Long," identified in Mid-America Folklore (1992) as a White spiritual:

Been list'ning all the day long.

Ben list'ning all the day.

Been list'ning all the day long.

To hear some sinner pray.

The phrase "all the day" seems to have been common in earlier centuries. For example, David Quinn, Alison Quinn & Susan Hillier, Newfoundland from Fishery to Colony: Northwest Passage Searches (1979) quotes this journal entry from 1612:

1th December 1612 in the morning the wind at south east untill noone in the after noone at east but all the day very much snowe until night at night the wind at east with showers of snowe and some froost

Two of the most frequently played LPs of my youth were Donald Swann & Michael Flanders's At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat. The latter included "A Song of Patriotic Prejudice," which compares the English (to their great and perhaps undeserved credit) with their closest neighbors within the UK—and with the world of foreigners generally. It includes these critical lines (at 1:27–1:32 of the YouTube clip) about the Scotsman:

He eats salty porridge, he works all the day,

And he hasn't got bishops to show him the way.

In contemporary idiomatic English, however, "all the day" is something of an oddball phrasing—certainly far less common in everyday speech than "all day"—for reasons that may have more to do with random drift than with any systematic change in informal English usage. In any event, you can use "all the day" without fear of being misunderstood by others, but the usage is likely to mark you as a non-native speaker or, perhaps, a folksinger.

  • “Everybody sing the song, doo dah doo dah / Everybody sing the song, all the doo dah day / All the doo dah day, all the doo dah day / Said everybody sing the song, all the doo dah day…” May 22 '17 at 17:51

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