Introduction to Universal Statements

Any term which is described in terms of "all" or "none" is called a universal, or distributed, term. Thus, in "all dogs" and "no dogs," the term "dogs" is universal and, in "some dogs," it is non-universal. Further, a universal claim is one in which the logical subject is a universal term, and a non-universal claim is one in which the logical subject is a non-universal term. Consider the following examples:

All dogs go to heaven.
No dogs are allowed.
I enjoy good bouzouki music.
All that glisters is not gold.
All the king's men could not put Humpty together again.
"All dogs go to heaven" is in the form of a standard universal claim, as is the negative "No dogs are allowed." In both cases, the subject, "dogs," takes a universal modifier, "all" or "no."

Restating the claim, "I enjoy good bouzouki music," with a state-of-being verb (see Deduction), produces the universal claim, "All good bouzouki music is enjoyed by me." In this example, "bouzouki music" is the logical subject of both sentences, because it is the grammatical subject when restated with a state-of-being verb.

The last two examples look similar, but the combination of "all" and "not" can have irregular results. "All that glisters is not gold," for example, should be understood as "Some things that glister are not gold," and since the subject here is modified by the qualifier "some," this is a non-universal claim. By contrast, "All the king's men could not put Humpty together again" can be restated as "No king's man is a Humpty reassembler," which is a universal claim.

Notice, too, that qualifiers which do not modify the logical subject do not affect the universality of the claim. Since "All dogs go to heaven" is a universal claim, so is "All dogs usually go to heaven," because it qualifies "going to heaven" and not "dogs." And since "Some dogs go to heaven" is a non-universal claim, so is "Some dogs always go to heaven." This can get more confusing when there is a question about whether the "all" is meant as a universal ("each and every one") or a collective ("together as a group"). Thus, "All dogs rarely go to heaven" probably means that it is rare for all dogs, as a group, to go to heaven, but does not address the chances of individual dogs, and so is a collective and not a universal claim.

Finally, remember that many unqualified terms are meant to be universal. This includes all singular nouns, and plural nouns where "all" is implied. Consider the following claims:

Nancy Tsukiyama is a police officer.
The Tsukiyama family is moving
The Tsukiyamas are generous.
The first claim has a singular subject, "Nancy Tsukiyama." The subject of the second example is "the Tsukiyama family," a collective noun. Though collective nouns are grammatically singular, they can be qualified in ways that singular nouns cannot: "Some of the Tsukiyamas family is moving" makes sense, "Some of Nancy Tsukiyama is a police officer" does not. The subject of the third claim is a plural noun, "The Tsukiyamas." All three of these examples, therefore, may be universal claims. The first example, with a singular subject, is universal by definition. The question to ask about the others is whether the speaker would be surprised to discover one Tsukiyama who is not moving, in the second example, or one Tsukiyama who is not generous, in the third. You can imagine that, if there are only five Tsukiyama, it is likely that the speaker means "all" in both claims; but if there are tens of thousands of Tsukiyamas, it is likely that the claims are not meant to be universal.

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Exercises for Universal and Non-Universal Claims

1. Which of the following is a universal claim?

  Some of Anna's friends are late.

  All of Anna's friends are often late.

  Some of Anna's friends are always late.

  Most of Anna's friends are usually late.

2. Which of the following is not a universal claim?

  I'll be back.

  There's no place like home.

  Use the force, Luke!

  Love is never having to say you're sorry.

1. Which of the following is a universal claim? You answered:

  Some of Anna's friends are late.

Here, "Anna's friends" is qualified by "some," and "some" can be neither "all" nor "none," so this claim cannot be universal.

1. Which of the following is a universal claim? You answered:

  All of Anna's friends are often late.

Correct!!

Here, "Anna's friends" is qualified by "all," so this claim is universal. The later adverb "often" does not qualify the subject of the sentence, and so does not figure into the issue of universality.

1. Which of the following is a universal claim? You answered

  Some of Anna's friends are always late.

Here, "Anna's friends" is qualified by "some," and "some" can be neither "all" nor "none," so this claim cannot be universal. The later adverb "always" does not qualify the subject of the sentence, and so does not figure into the issue of universality.

1. Which of the following is a universal claim? You answered:

  Most of Anna's friends are usually late.

Here, "Anna's friends" is qualified by "most," and "most" can be neither "all" nor "none," so this claim cannot be universal.

2. Which of the following is not a universal claim? You answered:

  I'll be back.

We can restate the claim as "I am the person who will be back," and in that case, "I" is the singular subject of the statement, making it universal by definition.

2. Which of the following is not a universal claim? You anwered:

  There's no place like home.

We can restate the claim as "No place is like home," and since the subject of that statement, "home" is modified by "no," the claim is universal.

2. Which of the following is not a universal claim? You answered:

  Use the force, Luke!

Correct!!

"Use the force, Luke!" is not a universal claim, because it is not a claim at all. This is a command, and since commands cannot be true or false, they cannot be claims, whether universal or not.

2. Which of the following is not a universal claim? You answered:

  Love is never having to say you're sorry.

This can be restated as "No love is having to say you're sorry," and since the subject is modified by "no," the claim is universal.

Congratulations!!

You have finished the section on universal statements.