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This is from Minna no Nihongo Chapter 15. It's a description of Santa Claus.

でも世界の子供はみんな私を知っています。 みんな seems like a counter of sorts (I don't know how else to describe it) for 世界の子供. I always thought it was of the same grammatical category as 彼 and 彼女. So is みんな basically a "counter"? All the time? Most of the time? Depends on the situation?

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I don't think "counter" is the right word here. Usually "counter" refers to 助数詞, while みんな is either a noun, adverb, or pronoun. See Wikipedia's explanation of counter words: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_counter_word –  snailboat Dec 17 '12 at 3:08
    
@snailplane: I agree, the word “counter” is a bad choice here because it is an established term for a different notion. Using standard terms, the question can be stated as “I thought that みんな was a pronoun just like 彼 and 彼女, but I encountered the sentence ‘でも世界の子供はみんな私を知っています。’ where みんな is used as an adverb. Is みんな always an adverb, or can it be used as both a pronoun and an adverb depending on the context?” I am not sure if rewriting the question like this makes sense, though. If someone can ask the question in this way, probably he/she can just look up a dictionary and find the answer. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 17 '12 at 19:08
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I think 皆{みんな} can mean "all" when used adverbially, as well as "everyone" or "everything":

でも世界の子供はみんな私を知っています。
"But the children of the world all know me."

You can also use みんな to refer to more than people:

チーズは皆食べられてしまった
"All of the cheese has been eaten."

There's some more examples at the Yahoo dictionary definition for 皆{みな} (for information on the difference between 皆{みんな} and 皆{みな}, see also How do you know when to use みな or みんな?)

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You seem to think it is a counter such as すべて. I don't disagree but even in your examples it seems it could be either counter or a subject/indirect object. IOW, aren't the following also correct?「でも世界の子供はみんなが私を知っています。」or for the second example 「チーズは皆に食べられてしまった」???? –  Tim Dec 16 '12 at 9:55
    
@Tim I think I would translate your first sentence as "But as for the children of the world, everyone knows me". Your second sentence would be "The cheese was eaten by everyone", so I would say both of your sentences have a different meaning. I can't explain it linguistically, but I think there's two different usages by looking at Daijisen/Daijirin, one of which has "すべて" as a possible meaning in both dicts. –  cypher Dec 16 '12 at 10:03
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I think the point is just that みんな can be used either as a noun or as an adverb/counter-type thing. (Just like すべて, which can be both of these things.) –  Billy Dec 16 '12 at 11:09
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This is a good answer, but what is the point of mentioning 皆無? 皆無 was also used as an adverb in old time, but its meaning as an adverb hardly corresponds to “nothing” or “none.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 16 '12 at 22:01
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@Tim, in the examples みんな is used as an adverb, so it's not a case of が-elision (皆, 全て can be used as adverbs even in registers where you wouldn't omit particles). As for 世界の子供はみんなが私を知っています, it's not incorrect, but I believe it's not very common since 世界の子供 and みんな refer to the same thing. –  dainichi Dec 17 '12 at 1:13
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