Phrase 1:

Police officers have the authority to arrest people.

Phrase 2:

All police officers have the authority to arrest people.

As I understand it, the all in phrase 2 is a distributive determiner. How is an absent determiner treated, as in phrase 1?

My subconscious knowledge tells me that an absent determiner means that the statement applies to members of the group generally but leaves the possibility that it may not apply to some. Whereas the all determiner makes the statement explicitly applicable to all members without exceptions.

Is this accurate?

  • More or less. A lot depends on context. – Hot Licks Dec 25 '16 at 4:27
  • #1 means In general, police officers have the authority to arrest people. It can include 'all police officers', it doesn't have to. In other words, it does not affirm or deny that all of them have that authority. To do that, you have to say all or some. Even using all can just mean all from a certain person's perspective: if I go to Paris for a week and then come home and say I saw all the sights, well it is pretty much impossible for that to be true. You can consider that either as all the sights I wanted to see or you can consider it as hyperbole (exaggeration). – AmE speaker Dec 25 '16 at 4:56
  • With actual examples, certainly answer status, Clare. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 25 '16 at 9:19
  • I'd go with Hot Licks and two other things: Unless we're talking about Paris, Texas, 'I saw all the sights' is so clearly impossible, it must be an idiom. With no grammatical relevance, neither statement is true here in the UK: Police constables - all of them - have the authority to arrest people; police community support officers do not. I believe a similar distinction applies in the USA but I don't know the comparable terms for constables or PCSO. – Robbie Goodwin Jan 9 '17 at 0:16

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