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[The following regards the UK case Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co (1893)] One of the arguments made on the Company’s behalf was that holding that there was a contract with the claimant would mean that the Company had contracted with everybody in the world, because the advert was addressed to the whole world. Th is argument was given short shrift by the Court of Appeal:

It is not a contract made with all the world. There is the fallacy of the argument. It is an offer made to all the world; and why should not an offer be made to all the world which is to ripen into a contract with anybody who comes forward and performs the condition? (per Bowen LJ)

Based on the content, I guess that all the world = the whole world. Yet can all the be followed by a singular noun? How? I know that a plural noun can follow it, so am confused.

Source: p 17, The Law of Contract, 5 ed (2012), by O’Sullivan and Hilliard

  • Irrespective of any grammar rule, All the worlds would be simply nonsensical ;) – Maulik V Nov 3 '14 at 4:59
  • @MaulikV Depends on the context. If you were writing about galactic-level events, 'All the worlds' is a perfectly reasonable selector. "Amidst all the worlds in all the solar systems, we are the only one known to harbour life." – Damien H Nov 3 '14 at 6:10
  • Of course, I talked about this context. @DamienH – Maulik V Nov 3 '14 at 6:42
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I've looked up Swan's Practical English Usage, and its Unit 36 cites the following example as grammatical:

She's eaten all (of) the cake.

Further on, in 36.4, it says that

all can be used before some singular countable nouns referring to things that can naturally be divided into parts. [..] It can also be used before proper nouns (e.g. names of places or writers).

All that week. All my family. All the way.
All (of) London knew about her affair. I've read all (of) Shakespeare.

But it remarks that "with other singular countable nouns, it is more natural to use whole (e.g. the whole story).

Personally I tend to think that Graham is right and "all the world" here means "all the people of the world". But this probably dovetails with Swan's description, because the world's population can be divided into parts (say, those who can or who cannot buy the Carbolic Smoke Ball).

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Its a matter of context. You can say things like "all the world", "all the town", "all the country", as it is understood that what this means, in this context at least, is "all the people of the world/town/country", where "people" is a plural noun. So the use of a plural noun is implicit here, even though it is not written as such.

Another such use is a sentence like "He has eaten all the cabbage". Again I would argue that what's implied here is that there are several portions of cabbage and he has eaten all of them, thus the statement could have been written as "He has eaten all the portions of cabbage" and so a plural is implied if not explicitly stated.

In other contexts the need for use of a plural noun is explicit: "all the bananas", "all the cars", etc.

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