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Here's a sentence I said to a friend today:

「すべての授業{じゅぎょう}を選{えら}びません。」

I wanted to say "I don't choose all my courses."

However, my friend understood my sentence as "I choose none of my course. / I don't choose any course at all.", and suggested me to say 「すべての授業{じゅぎょう}を選{えら}ぶわけではありません。」instead.

jisho.org doesn't mention this use for すべて. Is there a more general "rule" I should know about regarding this case, so as to avoid similar misunderstandings?

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すべて, just like 'all', means 100%, or conversely 'none'.

The issues before you are between logical construction in Japanese and non-logical (implied context) construction in the English phrase.

The English phrase 'I don't choose all my courses' could just as well logically mean that you choose none of your courses (Don't choose any), but normally there is an underlying omitted context. Namely, 'but I do choose some/most of them.'

If you want to make the English sentence logically correspond to the implied meaning, you would need to say something like 'I am not allowed to choose every single course', or 'It's not like I can choose all of my courses'.

In Japanese, the underlying omitted context is not there. You are literally saying 'I choose none (not a one) of my classes'. This is why your friend suggested that you add a modifier.

「すべての授業を選びません。」= (授業の100%) 選ばない。[(100% of classes) I do not choose.]

「すべての授業を選ぶわけではありません。」= (授業の100%)≠ 選ぶ [(100% of classes) ≠ I choose.]

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    "The English phrase 'I don't choose all my courses' should logically mean that you choose none of your courses" - I disagree. Negation does not necessarily mean opposition. In this case, the negation just rules out the case of choosing all the courses, so one could still be choosing half the courses, or a fourth, etc. – Kaskade Mar 24 at 10:24
  • @HansPeter Thanks for catching that. I had meant to say that it could logically be construed that way, then I went and neglected to state it as such. Will revise. – BJCUAI Mar 24 at 10:50
  • This is along the lines of the difference between 'not all' and 'not at all'. – Mathieu Bouville Mar 24 at 12:04

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