In my lessons, I came across two different meanings for the adverb 都 dōu:
- "Already" with the structure:
Subj. + 都 + Predicate + 了, where 了 stands for completion of the predicate (see Expressing "already" with "dou" in resources.allsetlearning).
- "All" or "both" with the structure:
Subj. + 都 + Predicate(see The "all" adverb "dou" in resources.allsetlearning).
I wonder if it is possible in some sentences to distinguish between these meanings without more context. In particular, I'm thinking about the situation when the sentence has a final particle 了, such as:
1: They have already eaten.
2: All of them ate.
Maybe there is not much difference, but I believe in English there is a difference in the emphasis: in 1., the emphasis is on the time (they ate before expected); while in 2., the emphasis is on the number of people. For example, if this was a sentence said in a restaurant by a waiter on the phone, interpretation 1. could mean a particular table just finished eating then, while interpretation 2. could mean all tables finished eating.