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As far as I understand, 'all' should always be followed by a noun or pronoun, so the sentence 'I want to buy all' is incorrect. However, in computer games and mobile apps, I often see phrases like 'Buy all' or 'Clear all'. Is this a mistake? Please help me understand.

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    'All' is very slippery. I don't really like dictionary treatments, but 'He gave all that he had' and 'That is all' do seem to overlap with the 'everything' usage. But in any case 'Buy all' is headlinese, and as such not really bound by the usual rules. Feb 21, 2022 at 19:43
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    There are set phrases like "Winner takes all", "all or nothing", and poetic usages like "Love is all." But there is no requirement for a button or menu item in a game to be a complete sentence - indeed it might be harder to use the software if it wasn't abbreviated.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 21, 2022 at 20:06
  • Where does your understanding come from? I’m not aware of any such requirement. Feb 21, 2022 at 21:03
  • Don't expect labels on software or games to follow grammar rules; they don't. Feb 21, 2022 at 21:26
  • At the end of a meeting we could say "All is done". "All" does not necessarily need definition by a following noun or pronoun. I hope that after you have read these various comments, all is understood.
    – Anton
    Feb 21, 2022 at 21:49

3 Answers 3

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All is a Quantifier. That's a part of speech that the Romans didn't know about, so they left it off their lists. Other English quantifiers include

  • some, any, few, quite a few, many, most, 33, over 50, each, every, none ...

As can be seen, quantifiers have to do with How Many (or How Much). They quantify ("bind" in the trade) noun phrases, and like adjectives, they have their own special place in the noun phrase. Quantifiers are determiners, and determiners go before the adjectives. So you get noun phrases like

  • all the big white overdecorated Edwardian duplex houses

where all the constitutes the determiner phrase and big white overdecorated Edwardian duplex constitutes the adjective phrase, all modifying the noun houses.

Like many other quantifiers (each, for instance, but not every), all can float to adverb position

  • All/Each of the boys left. ~ The boys all/each left.
  • Every boy left, but not *The boys every left

Also like many other quantifiers, all may be used without a bound noun, in context, if the meaning is clear. All is not so common alone meaning "all of them" as some quantifiers, but it does occur.

  • I like some of his paintings, but not all.
  • Wrap them up, please; I'll take them all. (note word order; *all them)

It also occurs in many fixed phrases, constructions, and quotations

  • All is lost!
  • All I want is a room somewhere.
  • He bet it all and lost it all.
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  • What about all used as a noun? E.g., "He gave it his all," referring to someone's maximum effort.
    – Robusto
    Feb 23, 2022 at 20:40
  • I'd call that a noun based on the quantifier, like sum from summa. Feb 23, 2022 at 20:50
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Sometimes all is used alone in formal situations.

I hope all is well with you.

We can use all--

All + relative clause (all=every thing, the only thing)-

All that I have is yours= All I have is yours. = Everything is yours. (NOT All is yours.)

This is all that I have.= This is all I have.

Tell me all that you know= Tell me all you know.

All I ate this morning is a burger. (The only thing I ate this morning)

(We can say all I have, all that you know etc. But we do not usually use all alone.)

all about- They told me all about their marriage.

That's all. (It's finished)- expression

Sometimes we use all alone as a pronoun in formal situations.

All are happy. (= Everyone is happy.)

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In this is a common usage where you skip the obvious noun part of the phrase if the predeterminer, adjective, adverb etc suffices to disambiguate it. Writing "Buy all of them" doesn't add any extra information, there's nothing else to buy all of. For a question of "what Should I buy the red car, or the blue one?" you could answer with the whole sentence, "you should buy the red car", or the noun phrase "the red one", but if you just answer "red.", it's still sufficient.

This is still very strongly dependent on context: the phrase or the sentence still requires the noun or pronoun. You just don't write it - you leave it implied by the context. Absent the context you must write it out. In case of these games you write about the context isn't even written verbatim - it's visual, a list of items available displayed above the button, and "Buy all" means "Buy all these items".

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