Let's suppose we are talking about a class. The class has many students. Some are good. Some are bad. It is about their behavior. A teachers says, "I don't like this class. They are bad students.' Now the other teacher wants to say, "Yes, many of them are bad but many of them are good too." What should he say?

  1. All are not bad.

  2. Not all are bad.

1 Answer 1


The unambiguous expression for that situation is
2. Not all are bad.

The negation applies to the word "all", because some are bad and some are not, and that is shown by putting the word "not" right in front of it.

The form "All are not bad." is ambiguous. It could mean that the phrase "not bad" is true of all the students, which is not what is meant.
According to Collins dictionary, "not bad" can mean
Collins "not bad"
passable; fair; fairly good
That would, in effect, mean that "none are bad".
Even with that meaning, "All are not bad" should be avoided. Instead, "All are fairly good" or the equivalent should be used.

  • ... and could you please explain what the phrase "not bad' means?
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 10, 2020 at 12:19
  • 3
    @JavaLatte Done. Aug 10, 2020 at 13:08
  • +1 because (2) is unambiguous and right. However, perhaps you should say "unambiguous" in stead of "correct"; we do use the other construction sometimes, and it is still understandable if it is taken in context: All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.* In this fragment from the Riddle of Strider by Tokien, some gold may still glitter, but not all does.
    – Conrado
    Aug 10, 2020 at 13:44
  • 1
    @Conrado Point taken. Shakespeare too: "All that glisters is not gold." Aug 10, 2020 at 14:14

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