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An example from OALD

I have every confidence that this decision will be fully vindicated.

Why is it 'every confidence?'. I dug further checking whether 'confidence' is 'countable'. And I found this on OALD

[countable] (formal) a secret that you tell somebody

The examples follow:

The girls exchanged confidences.
I could never forgive Mike for betraying a confidence.

But then, does the first example mean 'secret'? I'm confused.

  • 2
    ell.stackexchange.com/questions/4502/… (Have a look at Kiam's answer, hmm, curious) – It's Over Mar 25 '15 at 12:01
  • No, the first example maps to the first definition of confidence, that is: "the feeling that you can trust, believe in and be sure about the abilities or good qualities of somebody/something." So, I have every confidence that this decision will be vindicated means, I am quite sure that this decision will be vindicated. – J.R. Mar 25 '15 at 12:50
  • 1
    The phrase "every confidence" is rather formulaic; formulas often preserve obsolete or archaic meanings. This ngram shows that the phrase had its heyday around 1900. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 25 '15 at 13:18
  • See OED #5, 'an object or ground of trust; that which gives confidence, boldness, or security'. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 25 '15 at 13:30
  • @J.R. If it's a normal use, is it countable? I have confidence in doing this work. – Maulik V Mar 25 '15 at 13:59
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It's confidence = trust, belief, faith (uncountable abstract mass noun) in OP's OALD citation, not the count noun secret, private communication sense as subsequently quoted.

The every confidence usage is something of an oddity. Note this from an 1869 grammar book...

We should not say We have every confidence in him, because confidence is an abstract noun, and does not mean one of a class of objects. The expression should be I have all confidence in him.

But as every learner should be aware, native speakers don't always respect the "logical" pronouncements of grammarians, and that one has always been largely ignored. More recent "descriptive" grammarians now define the usage as...

Typical uses of every (Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage, 2nd Ed., 2008)
...
2 - with some abstract uncountable nouns referring to a feeling or attitude: [italics mine]
We have every sympathy for their case
I have every confidence in you

Almost exactly the same description of this "valid" usage appears in Harrap's essential English Dictionary, 1996, which specifically targets the needs of Indians learning English.

It's purely my own opinion, but personally I feel this is something of a "post hoc rationalisation" for usages which might really be better described as "idiomatic, fixed expressions". It's also worth noting that the confidence version has held up far more than the sympathy version, which I feel reflects the fact that all such usages are tending to fall into disuse (or at least, they're perceived by native speakers as being somewhat "quirky, old-fashioned, formal").


My advice to learners would be to accept...

have every ["feeling/attitude" abstract noun] in/for/to [the target of that feeling]

...as "valid", but to avoid extending the usage. There's no obvious way of identifying which abstract nouns everyone is happy with (confidence, success), as opposed to more "marginal" versions (sympathy, faith), and completely unacceptable forms (such as ∗I have every love for her).

In practice I imagine that if they think about it at all, most native speakers perceive every in such contexts more as an "intensifier" (I have complete/absolute/total confidence in him), rather than a "quantifier" (I have every/all/many reason/s to trust him).

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