In what cases does one have to use all with a definite article?

Some examples:

All the people in this world...

Could you also please give a link to a reputable source that one can cite?

  • This seems to me to boil down simply to a case of when to use the definite article and when not to.
    – WS2
    Jul 9, 2015 at 8:15
  • @WS2 my problem is that I see all as some sort of aggregate and I can't always tell whether it makes a difference to the rules of using the definite article in general
    – iggy
    Jul 9, 2015 at 8:18
  • All the men had been given military training means all of a specific group of men, which group will be known to the addressee. All men had been given military training means all of the entire population of men. Definite articles refer to a known thing or things.
    – WS2
    Jul 9, 2015 at 9:09
  • Note that "All the people..." can be expressed in expanded form as "All of the people..." So you actually have three wordings to account for: "All of the people," "All the people," and "All people."
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 11, 2015 at 5:48

2 Answers 2


Universals are always definite (because they are unique), so we don't need 'the'. 'All the' actually means 'all of the', where the set is not universal, but merely the totality of a mentioned subset. All cats are mammals. All [of] the cats at my house are hungry. 'All' is a logical quantifier, which is an inexact (non-cardinal) determiner.

  • Thanks! That is precise and clear!
    – Yes
    Jun 22, 2019 at 14:37

'ALL'confounds me; it is noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb and conjunction (now obsolete).

Now let us come to the point. Should it be- • all the people, or ° all people OED defines 'all' as an adjective meaning the entire no., a word to express maximum as 'all men' or 'all the men' and, suggests, in a way, there is no difference between the two expression.

Wiktionary says that as an adjective 'ALL' takes a noun or noun phrase denoted class of which should be plural or uncountable.

Wikipedia almost echoes the same meaning and defines it as one of the English determiners ( quantifiers) which can be used in certain combination as 'all the men'. It further states that some determiners that consist of phrases rather than single determiners may be called determiner phrases : ' all the' is one as such.

It is needless to mention, though there is no harm in mentioning, that all determiners are adjectives and one determiner often require another determiner to make the meaning clear or bring in a twist in meaning. Compare:

•All the green apples ••All the many outstanding issues.

In all these examples 'all the' is adjective phrase with a kind of pointed precision, nothing more.

But in completely different context ' all the' may mean 'as much of' as in — All the way home.

You may find this edited version of mine is a marked departure from my initial contention. In that case,excuse me my misguided reasoning.

So, 'all the' and "ALL" normally mean the same. They are determiners or determiner phrases. It is upto the writer how he likes to express himsslf or whether he would use 'the' or write the other way round.

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