Quantifiers have the ability to be stranded wherever the landing sites of its adjoined DPs are, as shown in (1).

(1) a. All the stackexchange posts might be deleted. b. The stackexchange posts might all be deleted. c. *The stackexchange posts all might be deleted.

Quantifiers thus seems to be constraint in their movement location. However, what about (2)? Say “all” acts like an adjunct to the DP and adjuncts can be adjoined leftwards and rightwards to XPs, why then is 2a correct but 2b ungrammatical?

(2) a. [DP [NumP all] [DP the stackexchange posts]] b. * [DP [DP the stack exchange posts] [NumP all]]

What’s constraint on quantifiers and DPs? Do they have to be adjoined to the left of DPs?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – prash
    Apr 13 '20 at 7:38

The question concerns the observation that the floating quantifier prefers to immediately follow rather than immediately precede an auxiliary verb. Interestingly, however, the quantifier can readily immediately precede a content verb. Observe the following triplets:

(1a) ?The girls all have been trying hard.

(1b) The girls have all been trying hard.

(1c) The girls all tried hard.

(2a) ?My friends all can take time off work.

(2b) My friends can all take off work.

(2c) My friends all took time off work.

(3a) ?His answers all are written in two minutes.

(3b) His answers are all written in two minutes.

(3c) His answers all make no sense.

These sentences can easily be tested. If you read one of the a-sentences to an informant and ask him or her to repeat it, they inevitably repeat it as the b-version. They correct the position of the floating quantifier, and they often do so unknowingly. Note that the preference for the b-versions is strong enough that more is involved than just stylistic preferences, contrary to what Greg Lee writes.

Turning to the exact nature of the question, the assumption about adjunction to DP/NP may be incorrect. The fact that the c-examples above are perfectly good indicates that one has to acknowledge what immediately follows the floating quantifier. Thus, the question might be formulated more appropriately as follows:

Why can a floating quantifier only marginally immediately precede an auxiliary verb?

The answer to this question likely has to do with prosodic factors. Floating quantifiers prefer to immediately follow a prosodically weak word if one is present. Auxiliary verbs are prosodically weak.

Support for this explanation is seen in the following examples

(4a) I will eat all the chips.

(4b) *I will eat the chips all.

(4c) *I will eat all them.

(4d) I will eat them all.

If we assume that the quantifier can immediately precede prosodically strong expressions or immediately follow prosodically weak ones, then these data are predictable. The pronoun them is prosodically weak compared to the noun phrase the chips.

Further support for the insight that prosodic prominence is relevant to the distribution of floating quantifiers comes with the observation that the a-examples above improve if the subject NP is changed to a pronoun:

(1a') You all have been trying hard.

(2a') We all can take time off work.

(3a') They all are written in two minutes.

Corpus searches reveal that when floating all does in fact immediately precede an auxiliary verb, it does so only in the event that the subject is a prosodically weak pronoun.

I explore the phenomenon much more extensively in the conference proceedings here. The account I develop is couched in a dependency grammar framework of syntax.

As a final comment, the movement approach to accounting for the distribution of quantifiers is in my view on the wrong track. If I am right that it is, rather, prosodic factors that are important, then all the talk of movement with or without the quantifier is poppycock.


This problem is explained by the so-called VB Internal Subject Hypothesis, or more cutely, VPish, and much has been written about it. I happened to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJoUyPIdu18 from Ling Space shortly after reading this question. Talk about coincidences. He mentions this exact issue later in the vid. The base phrase is "them all" at the end, but "all" gets moved up, leaving "them" behind. This rule matches the (odd) theory that all grammars are based on VSO and the subject gets shunted up front. I'm still having trouble accepting it, but this hypothesis is widely accepted now. I'm hoping to find other examples besides 'all'. BTW, the 'all' example works for Serbo-Croatian.

  • I find that video painful to watch -- he talks too fast and takes too much for granted. In any case, there is no answer to the question in the video. If you read the comments above, the main issue now is the extent to (1c) in the question is or is not acceptable. Apr 12 '20 at 17:58

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