In most grammars (in English!) and bilingual dictionaries of Chinese that I have seen (some do not specify category), meaning “all” is categorized as an ‘adverb’. Let’s assume that, in those cases ( has other senses we may ignore here), “all” is the best possible translation of into English and that native Chinese speakers understand exactly as English speakers understand “all”. [This, of course, need not, but may be the case; since I do not know, I just assume the most favorable scenario]. Such a broad consensus suggests that there must be syntactic/semantic reasons to say that , in that sense, is indeed an ‘adverb’, but – and this is what puzzles me - I have so far not seen any. Let me explain why.

By definition, an ‘adverb’ must modify a verb/verb phrase by specifying some circumstance of the event the verb names (e.g., time, place, manner, frequency, imminence, (in) completion, etc.), and there are at least forty kinds of ‘adverbial’ concepts, but the meaning of “all” is not among them.

English “all” and its equivalents in other languages, presumably including Chinese , function as ‘universal quantifiers’ over ‘individuals’ (things, persons, animals, reified abstract entities, etc.). That’s why logicians represent sentences like “All professors are male” as "For all x [Professor (x) → Male (x)], which may be interpreted set-theoretically as “for all x, if x is a member of P, then x is a member of M” and truth-conditionally as “for all x, if ‘x is a professor’ is true, then ‘x is a male’ is also true”.

Universal quantifiers, on the other hand, are typically encoded in syntax as determiners or adjectives that must accompany nouns within the same noun phrase (e.g. “All the professors”), although in some languages the quantifier can also ‘float away’ from its noun phrase, as in “All the professors are male” > “The professors are all male”, or “All the professors live in Cambridge” > “The professors all live in Cambridge”.

Being determiners/adjectives, quantifiers must often agree with the nouns they modify in ‘nominal’ features like number, gender and case. In English, “all” can agree only in number (= plural) with its associated noun (“professors”, in our example), but in languages with richer inflection (e.g., Spanish) the universal quantifier must agree with its noun in number and gender. As Chinese is even poorer in inflection than English, can agree with a preceding noun only in number (plural or dual), but it MUST. [English has a separate dual quantifier “both” that Chinese lacks, which is why sometimes corresponds to English “both” rather than “all”].

Note that, like English “all” (and equivalent quantifiers in other languages), must be preceded by the plural noun/pronoun it quantifies, which may function as a subject, a topic, or, in Chinese, an object preceding the verb in a ‘passive’ “ba3 …” construction.

At first blush, then, the fact that follows and often appears separated from the plural/dual noun/pronoun it quantifies suggests that is also a ‘floating quantifier’, but this is surely wrong, because cannot appear preceding its noun, the position that “all” (and its equivalents in other languages), as well as other quantifiers (e.g. Chinese “xu3duo1”) occupy.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but, as far as I know, “thong1guo2ren2 dou1 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” is correct, whereas “*dou1 thong1guo2ren2 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” (with in the position another obvious quantifier like “xu3duo1” would occupy) is not.

Thus, a) unquestionably has the meaning of a universal quantifier, and b) shares the number agreement and broadly ‘pre-verbal’ position of a ‘floating quantifier’ (“all”), but does not ‘float away’ from its noun phrase, because it cannot appear within it, and whether it occurs exactly where “all” and other ‘floating-Q’s’ do is uncertain, as Chinese lacks the highly complex auxiliary system of English, Spanish, French, and the other languages in which quantifiers do ‘float away’ from their NPs.

For these reasons, it would not be accurate to say that is a ‘floating quantifier’, after all, but that does not entitle us to deny its status as a universal quantifier and loosely call it an ‘adverb’ instead. Note that need not even be adjacent to the verb (= an ‘ad-verb’): if the verb has prepositional modifiers, will NOT be adjacent to the verb.

The ‘universally quantifying ADVERBS’ parallel to “all” would be mainly “always” (= at all relevant time intervals) and “everywhere” (= at all relevant places), but note that such adverbs quantify over the times and places at which verbal events occur. On the contrary, in the examples we are concerned with, quantifies over participants in such events. That is another relevant difference.

It is true, though, that in English (as in other languages) the universal quantifier “all” and the adverb “always” may produce very similar interpretations, cf. “All German customers drink beer” <> “German customers always drink beer”, but the quantifier ‘goes with’ the subject noun phrase “German customers” and may ‘float away’ (cf. “German customers all drink beer”), whereas the adverb affects the time argument of the drinking event and has nowhere to ‘float away’ to.

Accordingly, in all grammars of English (and the other languages) “all” and its equivalents are called ‘quantifiers’ and “always” and its equivalents are called ‘adverbs’. Why, then, should Chinese be treated in a different way? The null hypothesis is that it is also a ‘quantifier’, not an ‘adverb’. Of course, why it cannot appear before its noun, contrary to other Chinese quantifiers, should be explained, and where exactly does it occur ‘before the verb’ should be specified in much more detail, but those are different issues.  

My point, then, is this: unless native speakers construe as meaning “always”, a translation that none of my sources licenses, I do not see any reason why it should be called an ‘adverb’.

Of course I’m perfectly aware that the eminent scholars that have written all those dictionaries and grammars must have had their reasons to call an ‘adverb’, which means that I must be missing something, but they have not cared to explain them, and, honestly, I do not see what they might be. Can anybody here enlighten me in this respect?

Thanks in advance.

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Google Translate def

所有, , , , , 凡是
, , 二者,
资本, 首都, , 大写, 本钱,
都会, 大都会, 都市, 大城市,
big city
完全, , 统统, , 通通,



all  day long
统统, 通通, 整天, , 通共

See also  

Thank you for your answer.

Most of the senses you list are irrelevant to the issue (and I had ignored them straightaway for that reason).

However, you are right that Chinese also has a near-equivalent of "both", "lia3" 俩. I was aware of that, but I disregarded it above because "lia3", contrary to "both", is not a general purpose dual quantifier. As far as I know, it may follow plural personal pronouns, and in such cases is best translated as "two" (as in "we two", "you two", etc.), but it is not possible after common nouns. Neither can 俩 'float away' from its noun phrase (whereas "both" does).

As to the use of 都 as an adverb with the interpretation of "entirely", it does not help much, either, because "entirely" is verb-oriented, not 'participant-oriented', and therefore does not require a plural subject, whereas 都 does. As a matter of fact, there are a few 'participant oriented' English adverbs that do require plural subjects (e.g., "jointly", "collectively", "unanimously",...). I did not consider them because they are too restrictive, they require not just plural subjects but person-denoting plural subjects. Of course 都 must quantify over a plural antecedent (not necessarily a subject), but it need not be a human entity. That's why when I considered possible adverbial counterparts of 都 with properties similar to those of a universal quantifier I finally proposed "always". But even "always" is far from perfect as a candidate for an 'adverbial' English counterpart of Chinese 都. "Always" is better than "unanimously" or "collectively" in that it is compatible with non-human subjects, but it is worse than either in that it is not participant-oriented, does not quantify over individuals, but over times, and obviously does NOT require a dual/plural subject. 都 is participant-oriented, quantifies over individuals, and requires dual/plural antecedents, but not necessarily human ones. That's why "all" is a better choice, but "all" is NOT an adverb, which leads us back to where we started: Why should 都be called an 'adverb' rather than a 'quantifier'?


“Please correct me if I’m wrong, but, as far as I know, “thong1guo2ren2 dou1 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” is correct, whereas “*dou1 thong1guo2ren2 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” (with 都 in the position another obvious quantifier like “xu3duo1” would occupy) is not.”

中国人都要说英语  zhōng guó rén dōu yào shuō yīng yú (All Chinese speaking English.)

This sentence is right but not truth.

许多中国人要说英语 xú duō zhōng guó rén yào shuō yīng yú (Many Chinese speaking English.)

This sentence is right too and its truth.

许多=many, a part of all.

"thong1" is not Chinese PinYin.


Thanks for your answer!

Whether sentences express true beliefs or not does not affect their grammatical status. You can say a perfectly grammatical sentence and lie, or express a belief that is factually false. Hence, by 'correct', I just meant 'grammatically correct', not 'factually true'. But thanks for detecting '*thong1'; that was a typo that I inadvertently copied; obviously, what I meant was "zhong1" 中.

Anyway, what matters in the context of my post is that *都中国人要说英语 is grammatically incorrect, whereas 中国人都要说英语 is OK. That proves that 都 cannot appear preceding its noun, whereas 许多can. As a quantifier, then, 都 is peculiar, and its idiosyncracies should be explained, but as an adverb it is just semantically incoherent unless it does not mean "all" but something else that bilingual dictionaries and Chinese grammars in English, to my knowledge, have not so far identified.

Before 20th century, "都[dū]" as a noun was there. After the vernacular article appeared, it was endowed with the new pronunciation "dōu", and became the adverb, mood worse said.

It was "全" or "全部" appeared together preceding the verbs or adjectives always, and the sentence  been involved subject that quantity more than one(regradless of whether subject is omitted), later it was used to replace the "全部都", and was given the "all" means, but it is still an adverb not quantifiers. Adverb can not modify a noun in Chinese, so "都" does not appear preceding its noun.

Can you understand my limited English?

Thank you, again, for your careful historical explanation.

If I understand you correctly, in older Chinese, "du1", an ancestor of current "dou1", existed as a 'noun'. It is a pity you forgot to tell me the meaning of that older "du1". My bilingual Chinese-English dictionaries offer "[big] city", "[capital] city", but perhaps a legitimate metonymic interpretation of "city" is 'the people of the city' [In Spanish or English "ciudad" and "city" could mean 'the citizens of the city' in appropriate contexts].

If so, "quán bù dou1" must have meant something like 'the whole/all the [population of the] city', something very close to 'everybody' and 'all[people]'. The whole expression "quán bù dou1", then, must have been a noun phrase (NP), but that is no problem: many noun phrases play 'adverbial' functions (e.g., in English "I saw her last Sunday", "last Sunday" is an NP functioning as a 'time adverbial'). [The syntactic 'category' (noun, verb, adverb, article, adjective,...) and the syntactic 'function' (subject, object, determiner, modifier, predicate, negator,...) do not correspond one-to-one and must be kept apart. My initial question concerned the syntactic category of "dou1" (adverb? quantifier?)].

If this reconstruction of your answer reflects what you intended to say, then, obviously, there is a very short step from the meaning 'the whole [population of the] city' to that of 'everybody' or 'all': only the tacit reference to human beings must have disappeared for "dou1" to acquire the meaning of a general-purpose quantifier like English 'all' compatible with both human and non-human antecedents.

The disappearance of the real quantifier/determiner "quan2 bu4" before the old noun "du1", then, must also have disguised the originally nominal character of "du1/dou1" and allowed "dou1" to be reinterpreted as 'some other category'. 'Quantifier' would have been the obvious choice, but it is true that 'quantifier' is not one of the traditional (Western) grammatical categories (= Noun, Pronoun, Adjective, Verb, Adverb, Particle, Preposition and Conjunction). When Western traditional grammarians do not know to what category a word is to be ascribed, they nearly always say it is an 'adverb', because the category 'adverb' is a hopeless jumble of heterogeneous classes (over forty).

Since such 'recategorizations' are very common in the history of languages, that account of the facts makes a lot of sense to me. (And note that the initially nominal and then broadly 'adverbial' character of "du1>dou1" would also explain why "dou1", contrary to real quantifiers, cannot appear preceding the noun it quantifies over, as you observed).

If this reconstruction of your answer is compatible with what you intended to explain, I now understand very well why "dou1" has ended up listed as an 'adverb'!

Is it or have I misunderstood or otherwise distorted your intended meaning?

Thank you very much, anyway. You have been most helpful!

Best regards.

I am sorry forgot explain the meaning of the "都[dū]". I will fill in the following.

  1. The original meaning: the city has built the ancestral temple of a ruling house.
  2. capital
  3. big city
  4. fief
  5. region
  6. leader
  7. hundred persons (Tang, Five Dynasties and early Song Dynasty army unit)
  8. official

As these meaning, 都 pronunciation is [].

In older Chinese has not pronunciation [dōu] for 都.

the left part of this character is a temple, right part is a person who has ancestral worship.

My wife ( first 22 years in Hong Kong) says "都中国人..." is wrong because  "都"  means "entirely" not "all" in this usage.  The other sentence "中国人都要说英语" is translated as "Chinese people entirely want to speak English" is correct.  都  should be used here as an adverb modifying the verb, "want to study", not an adjective modifying "Chinese people".


As a native English speaker I feel there is a slight difference between "entirely" ans "all" when used as an adverb.  " ...entirely want..." means the subject has a forceful want.  "...all want..." means a want by many.  When the subject is singular "all" must change to "all out" as in "She all out wants to sing at the dance hall". Versus "They all want to sing at the dance hall." or "They all out want to sing at the dance hall."  A gray area appears with sentence " They all entirely want to sing at the dance hall."  Does "all" go with They or want in this case ?

Thank you Thomas.

I entirely agree that "all" and "entirely" mean different things. What I do not share is your use of "entirely" with verbs like "want" to reinforce the feeling of "want" of the subject. But, of course, I am NOT a native speaker, and I am much more familiar with Southern British English than with American English, even that spoken in Massachusetts (where I lived for some time). I do share your intuitions about the difference between "all" and "all out", though. As to the sentence "They all (entirely) want to sing at the dance hall", I am sure that "all" 'goes with' they, as a 'floating quantifier'. [Actually, there is massive proof of this in careful linguistic work starting with Dominique Sportiche's influential article "A theory of floating quantifiers and its corollaries for constituent structure" published in Linguistic Inquiry 19: 445-459 in 1988].

Happy Christmas!

I downloaded Dominique Sportiche's article and have done a fast read.  I see now that this is a problem even at the PHD level and is a research topic.  I noticed that the article has been cited over 1000 times.  Here is a link:  

I also found these other ( at first glance ) useful links: 

and many more could be added to this list.

and some more good articles or papers: 

and this 289 pdf book:  

and Justin Michael Fitzpatrick's 204 paged PHD MIT thesis on QF:  

another MIT paper on Japanese QF:   

a 1 page summary of Fitzpatrick's MIT PHD Thesis:

U of Venice's Francesco Costantini paper:‎  



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