All and Whole: how to distinguish everything, everything and everything in English

We continue our rubric of interesting nuances of English. In one of past materials we looked at the do-make difference. And today we have the following couple of words in sight.

Let’s talk about all and whole. The difficulty is that their sound and meanings are similar. In some cases they are interchangeable, but more often they are not. And it is not always possible to logically determine which of them should be used in a particular case. Let’s figure it out. Go.

The main secret of all and whole

The meanings of the words are very similar. Formally, they are synonyms and mean “everything, everything, everything.” In some cases, all and whole can substitute for each other, and you can choose.

All the class was writing test. – The whole class was writing the test.

The whole class was writing test. – The whole class was writing the test.

In this case, both the translation and the meaning remain unchanged. You just need to use the correct design – as you can see, they are slightly different.

But often all and whole cannot be replaced. Therefore, let’s take a look at the areas of their use separately.


All usually denotes an integer or the total amount of something. In most cases, this is a complex of several objects that have been combined.

And here comes the first rule to remember:

All can be used with both singular and plural. And whole – only with a single one.

If you see a plural, write all, you can’t go wrong.

All the students – order.

The whole students – you can’t do that.

Now let’s look at using all in more detail and with examples.

All with singular nouns

The most common structure is all + definition + noun. Countable nouns the very thing.

All my collection of old books has been stolen. “My entire collection of old books has been stolen.

I want you to clear up all this rubbish. “I want you to clean up all this rubbish.

The defining words can be:

  • article the

  • demonstrative adjectives this, that

  • possessive adjectives my, his, her, our, their

  • possessive forms of nouns: the man’s, my dad’s and others.

If the construction acts as a subject, then the verb will almost always be in the singular.

How about an example from retro music?

All the Story Is History – “All the history is history.” By the way, there is an interesting pun here, which is difficult to convey in Russian. Because “story” is translated as “history”, but in the sense of “events told or written.” And “history” is also like “history”, but with the meaning of “events in the past.”

But this rule (which is singular) has one exception: when a noun refers to a group of people – for example, team, family. Here the number, although the only one, but the verb is needed in the plural.

All the team were worrying about the next game. – The whole team was worried about the next game.

Another popular structure is with uncountable nouns… There you don’t need a defining word, just all + a noun is enough.

All water is wet. – All the water is wet.

Not all sport is good for your health. – Not all sports are good for your health.

There is a nuance here – if the sentence contains a generalization, then the defining word is not needed. But everything changes if you mean something specific.

All the beer you have in the fridge is outdated. – All the beer in your fridge is expired.

All plural used in exactly the same way as with the only one. The same two possible designs and features. We will not even dwell on them, because everything repeats itself.

Instead, consider the constructs them all and all of them… Instead of them, you can use other pronouns within the meaning. Them all and all of them are easier to illustrate.

Them all can only be used as an add-on. Because it answers the question “Who?” – “All of them”.

Mylene Farmer sings in French, but this song has one phrase in English – “Fuck them all”, which does not need translation.

The All of construction can be used both as a subject and as an object.

All of you are telling lies. “You’re all lying.

Which songs do you like best? / I like all of them. – What songs do you like the most? I like everyone.

As an addition, the phrases them all and all of them are completely interchangeable.

Which songs do you like best? / I like them all. – What songs do you like the most? I like everyone.

Both are grammatically correct. You can choose the one you like best.

With all almost sorted out, there is not much left. In some cases, it can act as a pronoun. And let’s go straight to examples.

All you need is love. – All you need is Love.

All’s Well That Ends Well – All’s Well That Ends Well.

This is a famous play by Shakespeare. By the way, did you notice that in the first edition of 1623 there is a comma before that? Punctuation in English has changed a lot in 400 years. For information on how to use commas correctly today, read our material

And the last one is a special case, when formally all in a sentence is an adverb, but performs the functions of an adjective.

Help, there are horrible insects all over the place. – Help, there are terrible insects everywhere.

It’s all your fault. – It’s all your fault.

If all can be translated as “whole” or “completely”, then this is exactly the case.


Whole can be translated as “completely”, “entirely”. If a word in a sentence can be replaced with entire, then it will definitely be whole.

The construction is as follows: definition word + whole + noun

We’ll have to repaint the whole room. – We need to repaint the whole room.

You will tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. – You will tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But there is an exception. This does not work for countries and place names. An additional preposition of is needed there.

The whole of England is covered by snow. – All England is covered with snow.

And there is also an exception to the exception. Yes, everything is so interesting. Because countries with an article in their names do not require an additional preposition.

The whole United States are covered by snow. “The entire United States is covered in snow.

Shall we continue? Because there is a small exception to this squared exception – although the Netherlands has an article, everything works according to the general rule in this construction:

The whole of Netherlands is covered by snow. – The whole Netherlands is covered with snow.

That’s all, with exceptions, that’s enough for today. But there is one more curious nuance that is worth mentioning.

If words denoting groups of people are used together with whole, then the verb must be used in the singular. Recall that in the case of all, the opposite is needed – the plural.

This is because whole makes it clear that something should be perceived as a whole, and all – as a set of single objects (people, states, etc.).

Further, it is worth mentioning the options where whole is used alone. There are only two such cases:

As a descriptive adjective. It is in the narrow sense of “wholly” or “completely”.

We only sell whole computers, not the separate components. “We only sell complete computers, not individual components.

Like a noun. In the sense of “whole”. No options or exceptions.

Two halves make a whole. – The two halves make up a whole.

I thought he’d eat some of the cake, but not the whole of it! – I thought he would eat some pie, but not the whole one!

Some more retro music as examples?

The whole of the Moon is a more literary synonym for the phrase Full Moon – full moon.

That’s all, actually. Two similar words that seem to be interchangeable, but there are a lot of small nuances. And to be honest, native speakers never learn these rules – they use everything intuitively. But for Russian speakers, this usually does not work, so you need to memorize.

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