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“People were excited by violence. What, after all, was the sexual act but a voluntarily endured assault, a momentary death?” ― P.D. James, Innocent Blood

How may you discern this phrase? It seemed like maybe a prepositional phrase. Or maybe it may seem like a parenthetical phrase, or discourse marker? I think I thought prepositional phrases place information on location like Near the ocean. Near the ocean, we ran. I think near the ocean seems like a prepositional phrase that may modify where they ran placing information on location. In after all, what may this modify? After all of that running, we went home. Something like this I may get, a prepositional phrase maybe on when, after maybe placing information on location in time.

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    Honestly, "after all" here is extra fluff that adds a slight bit of emphasis to the statement. You see it also used like: "After all is said and done, ..." similiar to "When all is said and done, ..." I'm not honestly sure of the grammatical name to it, hence the comment answer, but I wanted to add a bit of info for you in the mean time. – Michael Dorgan Jul 15 '15 at 23:20
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    I'm not sure how you classify that grammatically either. I'll take a look. The meaning is that we're looking at the situation in retrospect, after it is all over. It might be a discourse marker. – DCShannon Jul 15 '15 at 23:35
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    I think (but am far from 100% sure) that after all would be classed as a prepositional phrase, that is , a phrase made from a preposition followed by a noun or other term taking the part of a noun – PerryW Jul 15 '15 at 23:59
  • "after all" can often be paraphrased "as you will surely agree". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 16 '15 at 12:23
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After all plays several roles.

  • Semantically it means approximately, "taking everything into consideration" or "in the final analysis".

  • In its internal form, without regard to its context, it is a prepositional phrase; all is a "fused-head determiner" (CGEL), a determiner which 'stands for' the omitted noun which it modifies and thus acts itself as a noun = (approximately) everything.

  • Within the sentence it acts syntactically as a supplemental clausal modifier—that is, an adverbial modifying the entire clause to which it is subordinated—and it is external to the clause, not integrated into its structure.

  • Within the discourse of which this sentence is a part, it acts as a discourse marker, signalling a change of direction: the speaker acknowledges that she is bringing something unexpected into the discourse, but insists that it is nonetheless relevant.

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According to the OED, After all means:

in spite of any indications or expectations to the contrary; when all is said and done, nevertheless.

As @Michael said in the comments, it's often used as little more than an embellishment to add emphasis or authority to a statement as it infers that the speaker understands and has thought about all aspects of the subject.

You could almost think of it as a shorthand for something like "After considering all aspects and possibilities relating to the issue, I think..."

  • Yeah, that's pretty much the meaning. I think he's looking for a grammatical classification, though. – DCShannon Jul 16 '15 at 0:08
  • The few dictionaries I see with a definition of "after all" that also classify it list it as an adverb. I guess it would be modifying 'was' in the example sentence. This one is pretty clear: yourdictionary.com/after-all – DCShannon Jul 16 '15 at 0:16
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"What" and the adverbial phrase "after all" belong together meaning something like "What ultimately". The author wants to express the idea that one can say a lot about the act of love-making, but ultimately or basically it is a tolerated assault. Whether one follows the author in this view is a different matter.

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