Then there were doors that wouldn't open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren't really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot.

(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

It seems that all is a distributive determinative (Angela Downing) for plural noun or mass one. And so I'm confused about what it refers to. Does it refer to anything? If yes, isn't there grammatical problem?


1 Answer 1


It is not exactly a dummy pronoun; perhaps you might call it an "ambient" pronoun here, as in

It's dark.
It sure is hilly here.
How's it going?
It's moving too fast for me.
It's a morgue there after about nine o'clock.

It doesn't refer to anything in particular but to everything in general, or at least everything to which the predicate might be taken to refer.

Accordingly, it's very easy for this it to take all as a modifier, since all merely intensifies the underlying sense.

It's all dark in here.
It's all hilly in the Ozarks.
How's it all going?
It's all moving too fast for me.
It's all a morgue there after about nine o'clock.

So you could paraphrase it all seemed to move around a lot as "Everything seemed to move around a lot."

  • It wasn’t me who selected THE book (I read your comment but I guess it was deleted for the specific name): I happened to get the information that there are ‘English Syntax books’ in a Korean website after I’d questioned about a grammar. So then I read two syntaxes. And while uploading questions, reading the books, I’d been recommended her book in ELU, having read it through. I would be very happy if you recommend one for you know my English very well. I already have my reserve by McCawley, which I met when Professor John Lawler mentioned on ELU. But I don’t know when it would be.
    – Listenever
    May 16, 2013 at 13:23
  • @Listenever I did not intend to imply any criticism of Downing's work, which I know mostly from your quotes! I took the comment down when I realized it might be understood that way. I'm working my way through McCawley, too, which is for a traditionalist like me very hard, but very enjoyable. I'm not familiar with any grammars; everything I know I learned from my father and from studying Latin and German fifty-plus years ago, and in the last few months by following up answers on ELU. May 16, 2013 at 13:59
  • Yes, I’m enjoying the kind of books, too. For they are saying something that I can’t get in the novels and others. You already having learned those from your parents, I’m a total alien to the language. So maybe that’s why so many learners are grasping onto grammar books. But now I’m somewhat hesitating to read more grammar books. Because I started to enjoy story books.
    – Listenever
    May 16, 2013 at 14:09
  • Prototypical example: It all happened so fast.
    – user230
    May 16, 2013 at 18:27
  • Prototypical example II: It's All Too Much by The Beatles. May 16, 2013 at 20:30

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