Harry didn't think there was anything wrong with not being able to afford an owl. After all, he'd never had any money in his life until a month ago, and he told Ron so, all about having to wear Dudley's old clothes and never getting proper birthday presents. This seemed to cheer Ron.

(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is the construction of ‘told Ron so’ ‘verb + indirect object + direct object (pronoun)’; and ‘so’ is in apposition with ‘all’?

2 Answers 2


OED gives only adverb and conjunction in the relevant definition (effectively, In the way or manner described, indicated, or suggested).

In OP's context, "the thing told" is that Harry had never had any money in his life until a month ago. There's no need to see so as a pronoun referencing that "thing told". It's just an adverb, meaning...

in a manner embodying/conveying/signifying "the thing told"
("the thing told" will always have been already mentioned or implied by context).

Thus so doesn't refer directly to "all about having to wear Dudley's old clothes..." (but it does indirectly, since that clause simply expands on, and is a restatement of, "the thing told").

If there were other constructions where so appeared to function as a pronoun, it might be worth seeing it that way here. But I can't think of any such, so I suggest it's best seen as just another adverbial usage.

Note that to tell can be used in several ways...

But after a visit from my parents, I told. I was really feeling guilty because [blah blah].
(intransitive usage, no object)

No, that's not the way it was. I told the truth.
(transitive, direct object = the thing told)

He asked me what my mission was and I told him. (there are lots of told's in that link!)
(transitive, [in]direct object = the person told)

I told you the truth I heard from God
(ditransitive, with the two objects what was told, and to whom)

It's true we can often use "I told you so" and "I told you that" interchangeably, so possibly even some native speakers already associate so with "pronoun" functionality...

"He insulted my mother, so I hit him so!"*
(where the second "so" would be emphatically stressed, and probably accompanied by a gesture)

In that last example, you could perhaps say so = this [gesture], making it a "pronoun" usage. But I think it's more straightforward to call it adverbial so = like this, in this way.

  • +1 You might take a look at this. Especially the "authoritative" comment. Apr 24, 2013 at 1:06
  • Well, I pretty much agree with the general principle that little is gained by forcing {so} into one or more of our general part-of-speech categories cited from CGEL in the answer. But most of JL's comment goes over my head (I'm intrigued as to "Why you can't do so into the sink", though! :). As to the answerer's We are doctors. So are they., I think that's also a manifestly adverbial usage (they are [doctors] in the same way that we are). I see no good reason to classify "so" as a noun usage there. Apr 24, 2013 at 2:36
  • Understand: I'm not in any way arguing that it is a pronoun, just that I can understand how someone (several someones, it now appears, including the AHD) might take it to be a pronoun, because it sits in the right place syntactically and exhibits anaphora. Apr 24, 2013 at 3:03
  • It is most definitely not an adverb in this context; it does not refer to the manner of telling, but to the thing told. The "I told you so"/"I told you that" part of your answer is correct, and that is the way so is being used here: "After all, he'd never had any money in his life until a month ago, and he told Ron [that], all about having to wear Dudley's old clothes and never getting proper birthday presents." The punctuation is unfortunate; the comma after "so" should probably be an em dash. Apr 2, 2014 at 2:33
  • @Stan: You're presumably one of those "possibly even some native speakers" referred to in the sentence before my final example. But consider the discussion under StoneyB's answer (particularly, my comment about repositioning "so"). Superficially it might seem "easier" to juxtapose so/that and thus decide it's a pronoun. But it just doesn't get you anywhere useful, and standard reference sources don't support it. Punctuation is irrelevant to real (spoken) language, imho. Apr 2, 2014 at 12:43

It's hard to argue with so as a pronoun there, referring to he'd never had &c and acting as the object of tell; or with all as a pronoun in apposition, a restatement of the object; so we have, in effect, a paraphrase of:

... he told Ron that, everything about ...

And yet I'm quite sure that that's dead wrong.

So is an adverb with a wide range of meanings, all roughly equivalent to in that manner; and tell ... so is a fixed phrase meaning speak ... to that effect.

And since all here can be omitted without materially affecting the syntax, I think it has to be parsed either as an adjective modifying the about having ... prepositional phrase, or as a compound preposition, allabout—which is certainly how it is pronounced.

So I think what's involved here is a use of tell in a double sense: first intransitively, to carry the told him so idiom, and then recategorized to carry the tell him about idiom. My parse would involve an apposition of two verb phrases, with an ellipsis of the repeated second verb:

... he told him so, [told him] all about ...

But I think what we really have here is an instance of the language running so fast it tramples grammatical analysis into the mud.

  • I thing there might be mis-bracketing:... he told him so, [told him] all about ...
    – Listenever
    Apr 23, 2013 at 12:47
  • I don't see any problem with the "standard" approach, whereby so is classed as an adverb. Which, incidentally, can often be just as validly placed before as after the verb it modifies. "I thought Ron was making a mistake, and I so advised him". A little stuffy/formal/dated, perhaps, but perfectly grammatical. Apr 23, 2013 at 17:17
  • @FumbleFingers I said it's an adverb. But there's a problem with "I told you so" (or, for that matter, with "I told you"), which is the absence of a DO; so it's easy for a non-native speaker to see so as a pronoun, suplying that lack. Apr 23, 2013 at 22:20
  • Yeah - But "Does he know?" can be answered "Yes, I told him". It doesn't have to be (and normally isn't) "Yes, I told him so". It's still not obvious to me why anyone interested in grammatical terminology should shy away from accepting it as an adverbial usage. In OP's context, "the thing told" is that he'd never had any money in his life until a month ago. There's no need to envisage so as a pronoun referencing "the thing told". It's just an adverb meaning in a manner embodying/conveying/signifying "the thing told" (which will always have been already mentioned/implied). Apr 23, 2013 at 23:29
  • @FumbleFingers You know that and I know that; but an ELL who's struggled through the difference between speak, say and tell is looking for that DO; and an ELL who's been around here for a while and sees three or four times a day that any POS can act as any other POS, and who sees a dictionary saying something like so is "used to refer back to something that has already been mentioned" may very well look at I told you so and say "Aha! It quacks like a pronoun! So must be a pronoun here!" Apr 23, 2013 at 23:42

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