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Thank you for checking out my question. Even though I asked a similar question earlier, another confounding issue showed up here.

Is this sentence grammatically correct or, at least, acceptable?

Every one of them could not solve it.

I know that it should rather be written like;

None of them could solve it.

However, I failed to clearly point out what is wrong with this sentence. I would be delighted so much if you kindly give advice to me.

Thank you so much for your time!

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Let's take a closer look at your sentence:

  • "Every one of them" does not sound so incorrect but it is definitely less correct compared to "All of them" (no emphasis), "Every single one of them" (emphasizing all individuals) or "Each and every one of them" (emphasizing individuals even more). Yours is somewhere in between. You could go for one of these in a sentence without a negation in it. Which brings me to the next part of your phrase.
  • 'Selecting construction' + negation (= "Every one of them" + "not"). It is common in the English language to include the negation in the construction at the beginning of the phrase, following your meaning of the phrase this would boil down to "None of them". However, "Not every one of them" means something else, an ambiguation that should be avoided. This is the reason that the construct at the beginning of your phrase draws the negation to it, to result in one meaning and one meaning only. It is up to the writer of the sentence to put the negation in the right place among the selecting construction.
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  • Thank you for the very detailed answer. It helped me TONS! Yes, I also felt uneasy with "Every one of them".(I picked this sentence from the textbook for Japanese high school students) With regard to "negation" issues, I think I perfectly understand what you meant. "Grammatically acceptable" does not always mean that it is OK. Now I feel relieved that I understood "Every one of them could not..." is ambiguous and should-be-avoided kind of sentence! Thanks again!
    – Kyozy
    Jan 16, 2019 at 10:54
  • @Kyozy If you consider this answer to be accepted, please mark it with the tick mark under the vote count of this answer. Jan 16, 2019 at 12:00
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    "Every one of them was unable to solve it" would be better. Jan 16, 2019 at 14:15
  • To be clear, there is no such thing as more or less correct. There is only more or less common. Something either is grammatical or it isn't. Jan 16, 2019 at 19:52
  • I see. Thanks to you all, my note is filled with a lot of re-phrasing options! Thank you very much :D I will try to aim to be able to write at least grammatical and hopefully more common sentences to teach my students!
    – Kyozy
    Jan 17, 2019 at 6:48

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