What is the difference between all and whole? A student of mine asked me this at the weekend, and I think it was the first time in 10 or so years of teaching English in Prague that anyone had ever asked, so I said I’d investigate the differences. Do I eat ‘all the pasta’ or ‘the whole pasta’?
With singular nouns
We’re in luck – all and whole can be used with singular nouns with the same meaning. Here the meaning is like entire:
- Kelly Brook was with me the whole week.
- I was with Kelly Brook all week | all the week | all of the week.
- I spent the whole day with her.
- Kelly was with me all day.
- We stayed at the hotel the whole summer.
- We stayed at the hotel all summer.
Though occasionally you might find native speakers prefer one over the other. The reason for this is that it might be a special collocation or set phrase, which you’ll pick up separately when you study specific vocabulary. For example:
- I can’t believe it took the whole hour!
Here I can’t believe it took all hour sounds strange to me.
When I checked some specific examples of this on a Corpus, I saw that the word whole goes or collocates more with hour than the word all.
The use is different when you use plural nouns. For example:
I bought all the chairs.
I’ve heard all their songs.
All the ships passed quietly through the night.
In the case of using all with plural nouns, the meaning is like every or every one of.
We use whole differently:
I took 5 whole days off work.
The report took 9 whole hours to write.
Here the meaning of whole is more like complete.
All villages in the region were affected by the floods. [= every one]
Whole villages were under water. [this doesn’t mean every one was under water, just that those which were affected were totally affected by the floods]
All trains will be delayed until further notice. (= every one)
Whole trains were eaten by the metal-loving Monster. (er, you can see this means several or more entire trains)
So..drumroll, which word goes more with pasta?
We say I ate all the pasta.
He ate all the ice-cream.
He’s drunk all the milk.
Other points on using all and whole
- with possessive adjectives
All my life there’s been trouble and pain. (my comes after all)
I’ve been waiting my whole life for a woman like you, Oxana. (my comes before whole)
- with the (definite article)
I gave away all the money. (the comes after all)
I spent the whole day mowing the lawn. ( the comes before whole)
Note here a common mistake:
They were together the whole time (NOT whole time – you need the article here)
The monster was so hungry that he ate all the cake at Robert’s birthday party. (you use the to specify which cake he ate)
- dictionary terms
Here, all is a determiner.
Whole is an adjective.
I used Micheal Swan’s book as the basic reference, and then went into more detail from there.
Have I missed something? Feel free to add a comment below or share this with your friends 🙂