6

The OALD gives two examples using them all.

I cut them all a piece of birthday cake.

I cut a piece of birthday cake for them all.

Is there any difference between using them, and them all in those sentences? Is it just a matter of informal speech?

2

The difference between them and them all is usually just a way of making it clear that the action applies to all of the elements within the collective noun or group, and not just to some (but not all) elements of the group, or the group noun itself.

For example:

When my friends came over for a party, I cut them all a piece of cake.

In this sentence, a piece of cake was cut for every member of the collection "my friends" - i.e. each of my friends was given a piece of cake.

If we had chosen "them" instead of "them all":

When my friends came over for a party, I cut them a piece of cake.

We leave ambiguous the possibility that I cut a single piece of cake to be shared by the whole collection (i.e. one piece shared between all of my friends).

Similarly,

When we went to the pond to see the ducks, we gave them all some bread

implies that the author gave bread to each of the ducks at the pond, contrasting with

When we went to the pond to see the ducks, we gave them some bread

where it is possible that the author only gave bread to the collection of ducks as a group, and that some of the ducks in the group may not have been given bread.

So in summary, them all tends to be used where the author wants to make it clear that the action applies to each member of the group, whereas them can also refer to the group as a whole without specifically referring to each member of the group.

Increasingly the use of "them all" is becoming deprecated in favour of "each of them". Consequently, if you're not sure, use this form:

When my friends came over for a party, I cut each of them a piece of cake.

1

I think "them all" comes across as uneducated, though it probably has slang usage in some places. It is definitely informal as far as I know.
Its better to say "all of them" as in

I cut for all of them a piece of birthday cake.

I cut a piece of birthday cake for all of them.

The second one sounds more natural.

  • 3
    And the first one sounds as uneducated as the OP's second statement. :P – hjpotter92 Mar 7 '13 at 22:14
  • 3
    There's nothing slangy or even informal about them all for all of them; it is acceptable in the most conservatively formal academic writing. You may be thinking of the Southernism them-all, parallel with you-all, as an intensive of them: I loaned my car to them-all, and they wrecked it. But that's pronounced differently, with the stress on them rather than all. – StoneyB Mar 7 '13 at 23:45
  • They all have to share one piece? Poor them! – snailcar Mar 8 '13 at 0:03

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