All Is Well When All Are Accounted For

The word all, as a subject, may take either a singular or plural verb. It depends on the context. Just as with nouns like audience (“the audience is listening”), context determines the choice of verb.

When implying a plural noun, use a plural verb:

  • All were running down the road, frantic, as the tornado gained on them.
  • I notice all are present for the vote today.

When implying a singular noun, which might be called a collective abstraction or mass noun, use the singular verb:

  • All is well on the home front.
  • All I want is peace on earth.

Writers often mistakenly use the plural when intending a collective all. These are incorrect:

  • All we need are the results from the election [should be is].
  • All they wanted were food and clothing to get through the harsh winter [should be was].

I hope all that I’d hoped to impart to you is clear. Then all will be well with your world.

6 Responses to “All Is Well When All Are Accounted For”

  1. susan troccolo March 6, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    Terrific article, thank you. I take issue with only one sentence (my ear tells me it is off), and want to check in with you about it.

    All we need is the result…if “result” is singular, then “is” sounds right. However, when “result(s) is plural, I would think the sentence would be:

    All we need *are* the results….

    Can you please comment? If IS goes with result(s) plural, I’m in big trouble-:)

    • cslakin March 6, 2015 at 8:08 am #

      The word “all” is singular in this case. You could say “Those are the results we need”–the subject is a plural one: the results. Think of it this way: “The only thing we need is ….” “Thing” is singular so it doesn’t matter whether that thing comprises one or more objects. “The only thing I needs is lots of time and chocolate to get my work done!”

  2. susan troccolo March 6, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    Ah ha. That makes sense. Thank you! BTW, I’m with you 100% on the chocolate.

  3. Peggy McAloon March 6, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    Thanks for the grammar help. I find it incredibly important. After a major traumatic brain injury, I have difficulty remembering all the rules of English. I once received excellent grades in writing, but that was pre-accident. It’s one of the reasons I run my books through many levels of editing. I can’t take the chance of making errors and if I’m over-tired or over-stressed, I don’t catch them.

    • cslakin March 6, 2015 at 9:34 am #

      You’re welcome. I think what you said applies to all writers–we all miss errors for many reasons. Mostly we just can’t see our own mistakes because our brain overwrites them with what we meant to say. So often others point out a glaring error in my writing and I’m shocked I read that line a dozen times and missed it.

  4. Sue Coletta March 6, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    I see this a lot, mainly in blog posts. Still, I feel it’s important to do things correctly whether it be blog posts or books. “Alls well” drives me insane!

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