All the students ... couldn't answer ... (intonation)

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akimura

Senior Member
Japanese
Hi,

I understand that "All the students in our class couldn't answer the question" could mean either "Not all students in our class could answer the question" or "No students in our class could answer the question" depending on context.

Could it also be the case that intonation makes a difference when you say "All the students in our class couldn't answer the question"? If so, could you explain what your intonation would sound like with this sentence for each of the two meanings?

Thank you in advance for you help!
 
  • wondersilvia

    Senior Member
    Argentinean Spanish
    "All the students in our class couldn't answer the question"
    means that nobody in the class was able to answer.

    I don’t think intonation changes what words are expressing here.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi akimura

    The use of "All ... could not" to mean "Not all could" is rather old-fashioned.

    To be honest, I don't think that any intonation today would make it clear that you were using "All ... could not" to mean "Not all could".

    It's better avoided:).
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    "All the students in our class couldn't answer the question"
    means that nobody in the class was able to answer.
    I agree with this interpretation and it's how I speak.

    To your specific issue of intonation, I do think, however, that there are people who feel that the expression can/does mean "Not all students in our class could answer the question", so I will be interested to hear how they would say it in order to emphasize that specific meaning.
     

    akimura

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you all for the replies! I'm glad I asked, to know that "all ... could not" as "not all could" is outdated.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The 'not all' meaning is unusual, as others have said. You could force it with unusual intonation. In 'all the students', give 'all' the main stress. Then give it falling-rising tone to indicate that it's incomplete, that something more or some contrast is going to follow.

    \/All the students couldn't answer. [we expect to hear a continuation like: But \/some of them could]

    In the more normal 'no' meaning, the intonation is level across the whole phrase 'all the students in our class' until the end, when falling tone occurs on 'class'.

    There are other possibilities where you could use fall-rise on other elements to suggest other contrasts.

    All the \/students in our class [. . . but a visitor sitting in could]
    All the students in \/our class [. . . but a student in the other class could]
     
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