Lesson #256: ‘They Were All Wild To See Lyme’ (Austen’s ‘Persuasion’): Using ‘All’, ‘Both’, ‘Either’, ‘None’ Correctly

📘 ‘The young people were all wild to see Lyme … and to Lyme they were to go – Charles, Mary, Anne, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth.’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (1818)

I was re-listening to the audiobook version of one of my favourite Austen novels – Persuasion – when this sentence inspired me to write a Lesson on one of the most common errors I hear English language students make. 🤔

They tend to make the mistake of mixing up ‘all’ and ‘both’, or else confuse ‘none’ with ‘neither’. And all this because they don’t understand the differences in the number of subjects that ‘all’ or ‘both’, ‘none’ or ‘neither’, actually refer to.

How can I illustrate this point?

As you can see from the quotation above, Jane Austen describes how ‘all’ the young people – Charles, Mary, Anne, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth – were wild to see Lyme (also known as Lyme Regis), a beautiful seaside town on the English coast.

That simple determiner word ‘all’ refers to six people.

In my own life, ten years ago exactly, I visited Lyme with my friend Emma (and we had a wonderful time searching for all the Jane Austen associations with the place)! Since there were only two of us going there, I can write here that we ‘both visited Lyme’ but would never say that we ‘all visited Lyme’.

✍️ ‘All’ refers to at least three persons or subjects, whereas ‘both’ refers to only two.

As most lessons covering this important word ‘all’ focus on its other grammatical functions (since it is also a pronoun, conjunction, and adverb as well as a determiner), I want to dedicate one whole Lesson to establishing the differences between these four essential determiners in English.


✍️ ‘All’ describes the total number of people or things in a group. It always describes at least three (or more) subjects or people.

‘All’ can have different grammatical functions, but in the way we are looking at it today, it functions as a quantifier determinant that works the same with countable and uncountable nouns, pronouns, and numerals.

  • ‘All cars need fuel to function.’ (Here it is with a countable noun, ‘cars’).
  • ‘All information supplied here is for educational purposes only.’ (Here it is with an uncountable noun, ‘information’).
  • ‘All my books are paperbacks.’ (With a pronoun, ‘my’)
  • ‘All seven members of the Smith family were at the reunion.’ (With a numeral, ‘seven’)


✏️#1 If the subject of the sentence is ‘all’ (in the meaning of ‘every single person, etc.’), then the verb is conjugated in the plural form. For example,

📘 ‘… all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth.’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

However, if ‘all’ is used to mean ‘everything’, then the verb is conjugated in the singular. For example, ‘All’s [all is] well that ends well’ is the name of a play by Shakespeare.


✏️#2 The definite article ‘the’ is not used when ‘all’ is referring to a whole group of people or objects. For example, we might write ‘all cats like to play’ (a general remark that applies to all cats everywhere) but not ‘all the cats like to play’ (only ever used when we are speaking of a very particular group of cats in a specific situation).


✏️ #3 We do not use ‘the’ when ‘all’ is used with a time expression such as ‘all day’, ‘all morning’, ‘all month’, ‘all winter’, ‘all year’, etc.

So, for example:

📘 “Give him a book, and he will read all day …”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)


✏️ #4 We tend to use ‘all of’ before personal and object pronouns (such as ‘you’, ‘them’, ‘us’, etc.). “I should have thought,” said Anne, “that my manner to yourself might have spared you much or all of this.”

✏️ #5 ‘We all’ means ‘all of us’, ‘you all’ means ‘all of you’, and ‘they all’ means ‘all of them’.

📘 “One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best.”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

📘 ‘On quitting the Cobb, they all went in-doors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many.’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)


✏️ #1 Pay attention to the difference between ‘all’ and ‘both’!

✏️ #2 Don’t make the mistake of writing ‘all what …’ when you need to write ‘all that …’

For example,

📘 ‘He talked to Mary, and said all that was right …’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

📝 ‘BOTH’

Now compare ‘all’ with the word ‘both’.

✏️#1 The pronoun ‘both’ means the two persons or subjects that are mentioned, together.

📘 ‘”Oh no; as to leaving the little boy,” both father and mother were in much too strong and recent alarm to bear the thought …’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

This means that the father and the mother together were too alarmed (shocked, impacted) to leave their little boy.

We can use ‘both’ because there are only two people, but if the sentence were changed to include the boy’s aunt as well as his father and mother, the sentence would need to use ‘all’ instead:

‘Oh no; as to leaving the little boy,’ his father, mother, and aunt all were in much too strong and recent alarm to bear the thought …


✏️ #2 When we use personal pronouns (such as my, these, those, them, your, his, hers, etc.), the word order is important.

👉 This means we need to 1) write ‘both’ first, 2) followed by ‘of’, 3) followed by the personal pronouns. Take a look at this passage below, again from Persuasion, where Admiral Croft is chatting with the heroine, Anne Elliot.

📘 “If you look across the street, you will see Admiral Brand coming down and his brother. Shabby fellows, both of them!”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)


‘None’ and ‘neither’ have some points in common with ‘all’ and ‘both’.

✏️ ‘None’ is the direct opposite of ‘all’: it means ‘no one person or thing from a group of at least three people or subjects’. Take a look at these sentences:

📘 ‘On quitting the Cobb, they all went in-doors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many.’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphasis mine)

📘 “We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

And perhaps the most famous line in Persuasion itself:

📘 “I have loved none but you.”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphasis mine)

✏️ On the other hand, ‘neither’ means ‘no one person or thing from two people or subjects’. It takes on the plural form of the verb it is associated with.

📘 “… I am sure neither Henrietta nor I should care at all for the play, if Miss Anne could not be with us.”

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)

📘 ‘She felt herself ill-used and unfortunate, as did her father; and they were neither of them able to devise any means of lessening their expenses without compromising their dignity, or relinquishing their comforts in a way not to be borne.’

– Jane Austen, Persuasion (emphases mine)



All and none tend to be more emphatic than just ‘every [noun]’ or ‘no [noun]’.

⚠️ But make sure that you don’t mention ‘all the child’s parents’ or some similar expression that is only referring to two people or subjects. Similarly, be careful how you use ‘none’ (‘no one in a group of at least three or more’) and ‘neither’ (referring only to one out of a possible two).

That ends our Lesson for today, but as always, if you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to contact me through my query form and I will be happy to help!

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)