In idiomatic phrases like I was/am all like "woah!", what is the usage of all? Is it an adverb, modifying the verb to be, or is it a quantifier modifying the interjection conjunction word like?

Corollary: In the example, is like an interjection, is it used in its adjectival sense as expressing resemblance, or is it really (as Dictionary.com claims) a conjunction?

Moon Unit wants to know.

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    She could have asked Maynard G. Krebs. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:26
  • To me, the word "like" indicates that a emotion/attitude/behavior will be presented in a direct quote form but is not necessarily a direct quote. I was was going to post an something but I saw StoneyB's answer and I was all like "f- this I can't top this guy". Also, I don't feel that there is much difference between "like" and "all like" in this particular idiomatic phrase.
    – Leo
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:46
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    @Leo ... and all like implies that the described speaker is acting in a certain way/ This is why it constantly occurs to me that all modifies like in this idiom. So it's not just like, but all like. StoneyB says it's an adverb, though, and his reasoning and explanation are clear. Still... Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 8:02
  • "A pluperfect fink". youtube.com/watch?v=XlVcrsjHPbg
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 23:37

1 Answer 1


This is an extension of an earlier answer on this topic here.

I take all here to be an adverb meaning "completely" or (in some contexts) "excessively".

There's a substantial literature on the "quotative" construction be like. Here's a sample paper, with a bibliography; I hasten to confess that I haven't read most of these. My own reading of the idiom takes be like to be a little bit more than just a quotative, a construction for introducing quoted speech.

  • First, like has been at least since I was a boy in the 1950s a common colloquial discourse marker in the US, signalling that what follows is worthy of particular emphasis or peculiar interpretation.

  • Second, the be here is not the ordinary copular be, but 'behavioral' be, the be used in the progressive construction to mean behave:

    COPULAR: John is a jerk ... Jerkhood is attributed to John as a permanent quality, what some linguists call an 'individual-level predicate'.

    BEHAVIORAL: John is being a jerk ... = 'John is behaving like a jerk'; jerkhood is attributed to John as a temporary quality, a 'stage-level predicate'.

  • Third, be like is not restricted to introducing quoted speech: it may also introduce reproduced behavior. The "quotation" may be non-linguistic, composed of gestures and non-linguistic sounds, and if it has a linguistic component this is accompanied by a (usually exaggerated) performance of the words and intonation.

My reading is that in this idiom two common uses of like, as a discourse marker and as a comparator, have merged and have combined with behavioral be to introduce not just a quotation but a performance—a demonstration of the subject's behavior.

  • at the risk of forcing you to do more work: what becomes of all, then? Adverb? Quantifier of "like?" Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:33
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    ¡WORK! <--Krebsian inflection indicated Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:34
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    @P.E.Dant It's right there at the top: adverb meaning "completely, excessively". And my goodness it's nice to find somebody else who remembers Dobie Gillis! Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:36
  • I have copies of every extant episode. As a lad, Thalia Menninger was the girl of my dreams. So it's an adverb after all. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 2:35
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    Actually, Thalia would not have made much of lad. When I was a lad, Thalia Menninger was the girl of my dreams. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 3:04

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