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This all started in 1965.

Is 'all' a determinative here or an adverb?

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This all started in 1965.

"All" is never an adverb. Here it is a determinative functioning as a quantificational adjunct in clause structure. It is separable and not part of the subject NP, but an adjunct in clause structure as is evident from the fact that when the verb is an auxiliary, it preferentially follows rather than precedes it, as in:

This had all started in 1965.

The only other part of speech that "all" belongs to is that of pronoun, as in

We ate it all

where "it" and "all" are inseparable and hence best analysed as a compound pronoun.

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The word all must be a determiner there because the role of a determiner, in layman's terms, is to give more precise information about how much or how many of something we have. Adverbs, on the other hand, describe how actions happen and work only with verbs. Adverbs modify verbs, as they say.

As a determiner, all is used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of something. In other words, when referring to something as all, we're talking about all of it or about it in its entirety. And phrases like this all or all that can generally be rewritten as all of this and all of that. For instance:

They all were missing. / All of them were missing.

They all went there. / All of them went there.

This all makes no sense. / All of this makes no sense.

All people on board the plane survived the crash. / All of the people on board the plane survived the crash.

I spent all my money. / I spent all of my money.

As an adverb, all simply means completely. For example:

They were all naked. / They were completely naked. (How naked were they? They were all or completely naked.)

I was all tired. / I was completely tired. (How tired was I? I was all or completely tired.)

Which one of the two uses of all do you think fits better into the context of your example? Did it start completely in 1965 or did all of this start in 1965? To me, it certainly sounds like the latter case: all of this started in 1965.

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  • 2
    In the OP's example, "all" is a determinative functioning as a quantificational adjunct in clause structure.
    – BillJ
    Feb 3 '18 at 20:02

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