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I don't know how to use the expression 'at all' correctly. Please, which of the following two sentences is correct?

  1. There are people who do not believe in gender equality at all.
  2. There are people who do not believe at all in gender equality.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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From Google Books - not believe in God at all:12,000 hits, not believe at all in God:35 hits. There might sometimes be a slight semantic distinction regarding exactly what term is being emphatically negated by not XXX at all, but mostly XXX will include any supplementary clause closely tied to the relevant verb/adjective, with at all immediately adjacent. –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 at 14:42

3 Answers 3

At all is an intensifier for certain types of Negative Polarity Items.
As long as it is commanded by the negative trigger, it can be niched practically anywhere
any other adverb could go in the sentence. There are a lot of niches, and even more kinds of adverbs.

Concentrate on making sure you understand negation and negative polarity items before you worry about unimportant variation like where you put an adverb. Nobody cares as long as you put it in a niche.

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In this case "at all" is being used adverbially.

In English, there are three positions for adverbs.

The "mid position" (between the verb and the object) is one of them,
but only for certain adverbs - "at all" is not one of them.

In your case the first variant (with "at all" at the end) would be the correct one.

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As Carlster indicated, adverbials in English can be placed in the initial position, the mid position as well as the end position. The initial position is not available for at all because that is reserved for time or comment adverbials, so you have correctly isolated the two possibilities.

I would say that the end position is the default position for at all, as indicated by Fumble Finger's figures for not believe (at all) in God (at all) in the comment above: an overwhelming majority of at all being in end position. The use of the mid-position adverbial in your second sentence makes it much more strongly emphatic than your first sentence.

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