And other “all” words—are they one or two words? Or both?
Today’s topic concerns three sets of words that are easy to confuse:
- “All together” (two words) versus “altogether” (one word)
- “All ready” (two words) versus “already” (one word)
- “All right” (two words) versus “alright” (one word).
As we’ll see shortly, one of these six words isn't even a real word.
“All Together” and “Altogether”
Let’s tackle the easy stuff first: words that really are words. Our first pair of real words is “all together” (two words) and “altogether” (one word). The two-word phrase “all together” simply means “collectively”; everyone is doing something all at once or all in one place (1), as in “We sang the national anthem all together.” If you like, you can break up this two-word saying (2), as in “We all sang the national anthem together.”
“Altogether,” spelled as one word, means “entirely,” as in “We are altogether too tired.” You certainly can’t do the separation trick here. “We all are too tired together” sounds altogether silly.
“All Ready” and “Already”
Our second pair of sometimes-confused words is “all ready” (two words) and “already” (one word). “All ready” as two words means “prepared” (3), as in “The cookies are all ready to be eaten.” Again, you can separate the two words and the sentence still makes sense: “All the cookies are ready to be eaten.”
While “all ready” as two words connotes preparedness, “already” as one word is concerned with time; it means “previously,” as in “I can’t believe you ate the cookies already.” As with “altogether” as one word, you can’t do the separation trick. You can’t say, “I can’t believe you ate all the cookies ready.” That doesn’t make sense.
Next: "All Right" Versus "Alright"
“All Right” and “Alright”
We’ve now come to the third pair of words. At the top of the show I told you that one of the words isn’t a real word. Is it “all right” as two words or “alright” as one word? Well, as grammarian Bill Walsh puts it in his book Lapsing Into a Comma, “We word nerds have known since second grade that alright is not all right” (4). He was talking about “alright” as one word. It's not OK.
Another style guide (5) agrees, saying that “alright” (one word) is a misspelling of “all right” (two words), which means “adequate,” “permissible,” or “satisfactory.” So you might hear the two-word phrase in sentences such as these: “His singing was just all right” or “Is it all right if I wait outside?”
It seems pretty simple: go ahead and use “all right” as two words, and stay away from “alright” as one word. But the esteemed Brian Garner (6) notes that “alright” as one word “may be gaining a shadowy acceptance in British English.” And the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (7) seems to contradict itself. It states that “alright” as one word “has never been accepted as standard” but it then goes on to explain that “all right” as two words and “alright” as one word have two distinct meanings. It gives the example of the sentence “The figures are all right.” When you use “all right” as two words, the sentence means “the figures are all accurate.” When you write “The figures are alright,” with “alright” as one word, this source explains that the sentence means “the figures are satisfactory.” I’m not sure what to make of this contradiction. The many other grammar sources I checked, including a large dictionary, reject “alright” as one word. Regular listeners of this show know that language is always in flux, so perhaps “alright” as one word is gaining a small footing.
Some of you may get confused about how to use each of the words we’ve talked about in this episode. It’s just a matter of remembering what each phrase or word means. If you tend to forget, just use the dictionary to check the spelling, and remember that “alright” as one word is currently not acceptable English, though it may become so in the future.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier
This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and Mignon Fogarty is the author of the paperback book Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
1. O’Conner, P. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996, p. 118.
2. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, p. 28.
3. O’Conner, P. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996, p. 118.
4. Walsh, B. Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2000, p. 100.
5. Venolia, Jan. Write Right. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001, p. 126.
6. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, p.35.
7. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, pp. 24-5.