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Which way is correct to say this:

  • but not every classifier is capable of ...
  • but every classifier is not capable of ...

I want to emphasis that just some classifiers are capable of doing something not all of them (many of them are capable but not all of them).

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"but every classifier is not capable of..." is just a somewhat unnatural way of saying "but no classifier is capable of..." By the way, "can X" is a much simpler way of writing "is capable of X-ing". – David Richerby Apr 7 '14 at 18:52
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have a sense that "every X is not Y" tends to be avoided by North American speakers. It has an archaic or "Britishy" ring to it, and the meaning is the same as a "not every X is Y".

For instance, here is a quote from The parliamentary register; or, History of the proceedings and debates of the Houses of Lords and Commons dated 1800:

Every man is not gifted with the candour and spirit of the learned gentleman; — does he think it a country for an honest man to live in?

Of course, this means "not every man is gifted ...".

Another very familiar example in the English-speaking culture is the adage:

All that glitters is not gold.

[Not all that glitters is gold: some things that glitter are not gold.]

The syntax of this saying right away alerts us that it is very old.


  1. not every X is Y clearly asserts: it is not true that for all X, X is Y.
  2. every X is not Y is either an archaic or British form which says the same thing as (1) or else a way of saying for all X, X is not Y.
  3. If the intended meaning is for all X, X is not Y, then the wording every X is not Y is a very awkward way to try to achieve that meaning, due to confusion with (2); a much clearer, more natural way to express this meaning is no X is Y.

For instance, a sentence like:

I tried to find a red marble in the jar, but, alas, every marble was not red.

is quite awkward, and better expressed like this:

I tried to find a red marble in the jar, but, alas, no marble was red.

Plus, of course, other possible endings: "there were no red marbles", "there was no such marble", and so on.

If there is some additional phrase or relative clause in "every X is not Y", then it can be acceptable. For instance "every marble that I looked at was not red". This wording tends to eliminate the ambiguity, and is more acceptable, though still inferior to "no marble that I looked at was red".

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This is by far the best answer. – Martha Apr 8 '14 at 16:31

Generally speaking, mixing English and Logic is a bad idea; English has too many unusual and idiomatic constructions, and so if you want to be logically precise, your English may have to get rather convoluted.

With that in mind, logically speaking, when you talk about "every" you are making a blanket statement about the entire set that you are dealing with; if "Every X is Y", then there is no X that is not Y. If "Every X is not Y", then there is no X that is Y. (As Martha has pointed out, however, this can also be interpreted "it is not the case that every X is Y", thanks to the squishy nature of English.) So if what you mean is "it is not the case that every X is Y", you should phrase your sentence in as unambiguous a manner as possible, while not over-complicating it. And in my opinion, the best way to do that is to say "Not every X is Y".

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+1 just for "the squishy nature of English". :) – Martha Apr 8 '14 at 16:27

The first one is the one you're looking for.

but not every classifier is capable of X-ing

means 'there is one or more classifier that cannot X.'

but every classifier is not capable of X-ing

means 'all classifiers cannot X.'

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"But every X is not Y" can be interpreted as you say, but it could also be a poetic phrasing of "not every X is Y". Bottom line is, it's ambiguous, and should thus be avoided. – Martha Apr 7 '14 at 17:45
That's pretty new to me. Thanks for the information. – Fantasier Apr 8 '14 at 6:42
All that glitters is not gold illustrates the other reading. – snailplane Apr 8 '14 at 10:25
#snailplane ... "All that glitters is not sparkling" does this sound good to you? Because the question and the example given ends with a verb + "ing", so replacing that with a noun (gold) does not answer the question, it just changes the question – user1137313 Apr 9 '14 at 0:04

I am not an English language specialist but probably when you speak it and emphasize a specific word it might mean the same, but in writing, I believe you will confuse people by using the second phrase. The "but every classifier is not capable of ..." will most likely always be replaced by "but all classifiers are incapable of ..." since you mean that there is no classifier capable of...

Of course in phrase 2 if you emphasize the "NOT" then it would mean that you want to contradict someone, and you can do that. But like I said, in writing it would be confusing to the reader.

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I don't find much difference in that. Both will work. Let's see other example.

Not every student is capable of getting 100 marks in this class. It requires a lot of hard work.
Every student is not capable of getting 100 marks in this class except the ones with more than 150 IQ.

Both will mean the same. It's not possible to get 100 marks for a general student. Say, he has to be extraordinary.

However, the first looks a bit more grammatical.

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From where I'm sitting, the first one says "some (but not all) students can get 100 marks" and the second one says "no students can get 100 marks". – Hellion Apr 7 '14 at 18:15
@Hellion Every student is not wearing red-tee. Only the tall ones are – Maulik V Apr 7 '14 at 18:22
Sure, you can say it that way if you want it to sound unnatural. :-) Well, to me as an AmE speaker, anyway; if that's a well-understood Indianism, I can't really argue with it. – Hellion Apr 7 '14 at 18:30
Although I can add that if I hear someone say "Every student is wearing a red tee today!" and you counter with "EVERY student is not wearing a red tee" (with heavy stress on "every"), I'd have no trouble understanding that you mean that there's at least 1 student not wearing a red tee. (But my expectation would still be that the vast majority of students are wearing red tees, with only a couple of exceptions.) – Hellion Apr 7 '14 at 18:33
@Hellion: your point notwithstanding, I would personally counter thus: "I'm sorry, but you are simply wrong. Note yon student wearing red tee, as incontrovertible evidence of same." :) – BobRodes Apr 7 '14 at 19:34

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