Did you fly to Malaysia at all?
Did you buy the newspaper at all?
Did you switch off the light at all?
Each of the above inquiries implies that the questioner knows the questioned has been doing other things.
A: I’ve just come back from Asia, where I toured several fascinating countries.
B: Did you fly to Malaysia at all?
A: I’m back from the store so we have more than enough food to get started on breakfast.
B: Great… hey, did you buy the newspaper at all? I’d like to know what the weather forecast says.
A: Okay, packed lunch, enough water, got everything. The weather’s beautiful, let’s go!
B: Oh, did you switch off the light at all?
A: Dang, I knew there was something I forgot!
In each of the above instances, “at all” is roughly equivalent to “by any chance (in relation to a known circumstance or set of circumstances)”. Grammatically, “at all” seems to make a lot of sense, in that it indicates “seen in relation to all else”. This is decidedly not the same as “ever”, which would take in all past experience.
Did you see any sheep at all?
This question could perhaps, depending on the tone, be asked to someone who’s been driving through the countryside.
Now, let’s ask it another way:
Did you not see any sheep at all?
In this instance, “at all” serves mostly to intensify “any”. The main thrust of the question here is to get information on whether the questioned has seen “even one” sheep.
You don’t like golf at all?
In contrast to the previous example, in which “at all” collocates most strongly with the noun “sheep”, this “at all” relates more to the “liking of golf” than to golf itself. This usage often occurs with verbs of emotion or feeling.
I don’t at all sympathize with the terrorists’ motives.
how to say
Local ESL learners would generally more often say “How to spell…,” a rather direct translation of ‘Dzemme pin?’ I’ve heard local English teachers ask children time in and time out, "Elephant, how to spell? … “School, how to spell?”, etc., so it’s little wonder this usage has spread like quite the inclement virus.
There’s no harm, by the way, in telling people “that’s just the way we say it,” because you can teach someone every English word, every English grammar pattern, and every English idiom, but do you think that’ll produce someone who’ll speak ‘perfect’ English? Not a chance. The closer you look at the - indeed, any - language, the more you realize that every word has its own grammar, and that a grammar rule that’ll apply to one word will often not apply to another, even when those words are of the identical ‘part of speech’.
Ask yourself: How many years would it take an ESL learner to arrive independently at “Well, I mustn’t keep you”?
When people just learn words and grammar, they more often than not come up with wildly incorrect language when they go to compose, either in writing or in speech. A student often will ask me “Can you say that in English?” My answer is often “You can, but you wouldn’t.” Teachers have got to start focusing less on grammar and more on statistically probable co-occurrences of words.
In many - but not in all - instances, it’s easier for you and your student to match a word group to a situation, or a need for its use. If you succeed in getting your student to say “How do you say…?” in the right situation at the right time, you’ve succeeded in teaching a language unit without mucking about in its underpinning ‘grammar’. Is it really worthwhile, for example, to spend the time it takes to cover the rhetorical “How do you do?” No, just explain it means “Pleased to meet you,” and it doesn’t need an answer. It’s more efficacious to memorize the word group than the grammar rule, which is not applicable broadly enough to waste time on.
have a fly in my soup
Would locals not say “soup have fly”?