(1) We both/all have seen the movie.

(2) Both/All of us have seen the movie.

(3) We have both/all seen the movie.

It seems that "both" and "all" are part of the subject in (1) and (2), but not in (3). Is this correct?

Regardless of whether "both" and "all" are part of the subject in (3), it's clear that these three sentences have the same meaning, and that "both" and "all" are located after the auxiliary "have" in (3), unlike in (1) and (2).

Why place "both" and "all" after an auxiliary verb such as "have" as in (3)?


3 Answers 3


The phenomenon presented in your question is called "Quantifier Floating".

In English grammar, quantifier floating is the syntactic process by which a subject-related quantifier (all, both, or each) can be separated from the subject and appear in more than one location in a sentence. (directly copied from the link)

This quantifier floating is possible not only with normal verbs, but also with auxiliary verbs.

http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/W13-3730 This page has a few examples of quantifier floating involving auxiliary verbs.

(a) All the boys seemed to be in a good mood when they arrived.

(b) The boys all seemed to be in a good mood when they arrived.

(c) The boys seemed all to be in a good mood when they arrived.

It seems that when the subject is not a personal pronoun, structure "all of..." becomes optional. But when a personal pronoun is the subject, if you want to place "all" before the subject, "all of..." becomes obligatory, as in "all of us".

So why do we do it? I don't know. It's just that there are options from which we can choose, and we just choose one of them.

It seems that "both" and "all" are part of the subject in (1) and (2), but not in (3). Is this correct?

You are partially correct. It is more complicated than that.

An example:

The possible positions if the verb is "be" are shown in (31). We can see that the quantifier "all", which is part of the subject NP "all of my relatives" in (31a), can move to a position after the noun when "of" is deleted, as in (31b), or after the verb, as shown in (31c). It is tantamount to saying that "all" that appears separated from the subject is just a transformed version of "all of", still fully related to subject (but due to lack of my knowledge, I don't know if you can claim that it is a part of the subject or not). In (31d), "all" is part of the NP all of my friends, which is the subject of the complement in square brackets. Notice that here all can move to a position where it splits the nonfinite (infinitive) form of to be, as in (31f), but it cannot move over the infinitive, as shown in (31g).

(31) a. All of my relatives are farmers.

b. My relatives all arefarmers.

c. My relatives are all farmers.

d. I want [all of my friends to be at the airport].

e. I want my friends all to be at the airport.

f. I want my friends to all be at the airport.

g. *I want my friends to be all at the airport.


  • Many thanks for the answer. One question about (31g) being ungrammatical. Somehow it doesn't sound ungrammatical to my non-native ears. So I've done some Googling. Here are two examples from news articles. [1] Statistics show that children who read proficiently by the third grade realize better academic outcomes. Literacy experts view third grade as a time when a child transitions from learning to read to reading to learn. "We want them to be all great readers and be the best they can be in their community," Baker said.
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 3:36
  • [2] I admit that I remain a little finicky when it comes to surprises. I want them to be all birthday presents or letters from old friends. And here are the links: [1] goo.gl/qJmLCY [2] goo.gl/dMwJ6n What do you think about these examples?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 3:39
  • Well, first of all, these are colloquial examples, so I highly doubt that those are grammatically correct. Moreover, I am non-native, so I think it is better to ask native speakers by asking another question if you want to be sure.
    – whitedevil
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:29

Both/All are the subject in the second sentence.

The first and third sentences have a different subject.


The usage of both/all after the have is that of an adverb. Actually, the have is optional, if you're just trying to grasp why both/all are used differently than the first two sentences

We both/all saw the movie

Both/All describes and modifies We in this instance. And, since it is a modifier, and it's optional, the above sentence would be the same as:

We saw the movie.


We doctors have degrees

We both eat chicken

Throw in an auxiliary verb

We have both eaten chicken

Note, the adverb can be moved to before or after the have and it will still mean the same thing.

We both have eaten chicken.

  • So, in (1), "both/all" are the subject and they are adverb at the same time?? (You said, "both" in "We both have eaten chicken" is an adverb.) I find this confusing and even contradictory.
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:16
  • I take that back.. the 1st and 3rd sentences are the same. Only the second sentence uses both/all as a subject.
    – dockeryZ
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:17
  • I've editted my answer to reflect that.
    – dockeryZ
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:20
  • So, "both/all" in (1) and (3) describe and modify "We" and they're adverbs? How can an adverb modify a pronoun?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:42
  • @JK2 It makes more sense to think that both/all in (1) and (3) modifies the verb, though in (1) it comes after the pronoun. A similar pattern: When exactly did he do that? We did that because we exactly had to deal with the problem. Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 4:57

(3) is just a variant on (1), though (3) isn't standard grammar because it places both/all in between have and seen. The verb conjugation is have seen.

As to why you might see sentences structured like (3), english is grammatically complex and as a result somewhat fluid or variable in practice. While (3) isn't technically good grammar, its meaning is clear enough. If you read enough english language writing you will see far more egregious examples of bad grammar from native english speakers.

In present perfect tense, you technically only separate 'have' and its verb with a modifier of the verb, not a modifier of the subject. ( You can separate them in a question, such as 'Have you seen ... ?' )


You can say:

We have never seen the movie.

You can also say:

We have often seen bad grammar in the writings of native english speakers.

In these cases, 'never' and 'often' modify the verb, not the subject.

As I noted, though, in practice people violate this rule as they violate many other rules of english usage, because english is a complicated, messy language and many native speakers graduate from primary school and even university without mastering its nuances.

  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean "(3) isn't standard grammar." According to Ngram, (3) is the most common form of the three: goo.gl/L22FfF
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 6:19
  • 'We have seen' is far more common goo.gl/7RWFKW. Further details coming in my modified answer. Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 15:05
  • Of course it's far more common. You don't need an Ngram to figure that out. Whenever you take out a word (e.g., "all") from a phrase, the remaining phrase should be far more common. And 'have seen' is far more common than the other four phrases: goo.gl/N9BBIS
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 16:30

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