Could one use
a. That happened before all of you were born.

instead of
b. That happened before any of you were born.
?

Could one use
c. The doors were closed before all of the guests arrived.
instead of
d. The doors were closed before any of the guests arrived.
?

To me, there is a difference between (a) and (b), but I get the feeling that some people use (a) instead of (b). I doubt that anyone would use (c) instead of (d).

Many thanks

Original Post
azz posted:

Could one use
a. That happened before all of you were born.

instead of
b. That happened before any of you were born.
?

Could one use
c. The doors were closed before all of the guests arrived.
instead of
d. The doors were closed before any of the guests arrived.
?

Hi, Azz,

In each sentence pair, the first member is ambiguous and the second is not. Let's take the unambiguous ones first. Sentence (b) means that none of them were born before that happened, and (d) means that none of the guests had arrived before the doors were closed.

In (a) and (c), the case is different. The reading of (a) that corresponds to the meaning of (b) is that "that" happened and then, afterwards, all of them were born. The reading of (c) that corresponds to the meaning of (d) is that the doors were closed and then, afterwards, all of the guests arrived.

But there is another possible reading of (a) and (c), as you seem to already know. Sentence (a) could mean that it is not the case that all of them had been born by the time that "that" happened, and (c) could mean that it is not the case that all of the guests had arrived by the time the doors were closed.

In other words, in (a) and (c), there is a "some had" reading. In (a), it is possible that some of them had been born before "that" happened, and in (c) it is possible that some of the guests had arrived before the doors were closed. This alternate meaning would be enhanced if you used the past perfect in the "before"-clause.

Thank you so much David.

This is very interesting. I hadn't seen the ambiguity in (a) and (c). Now I do see it!

Wouldn't you say that there is a difference between (c) and (d) and that (c) implies that the guests all arrived (more or less) at the same time?

And is this one ambiguous as well?

c. The doors were closed before every one of the guests arrived.

Many thanks.

azz posted:
Wouldn't you say that there is a difference between (c) and (d) and that (c) implies that the guests all arrived (more or less) at the same time?

Hello again, Azz,

Yes, that is a very nice observation. I agree with you that (c) has that implication. The reason (a) doesn't have the corresponding implication that all of them were born (more or less) at the same time seems to be that that would be a very strange state of affairs and perhaps even stranger for the speaker to know about it. In short, that type of interpretation is unnatural in (a).

azz posted:
And is this one ambiguous as well?

c. The doors were closed before every one of the guests arrived.

Yes, I think it's ambiguous, but in a different way. It has one of the possible readings that the original (c) has, namely, that none of them had arrived before the doors were closed. Not a single guest had arrived before they were closed. The other reading is that the doors were closed again and again, before every one of the guests arrived. Presumably, they were re-opened each time, too.

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