A blog follower sent me an email questioning all right versus alright and when each should be used. The query arose at her weekly writers group gathering.
No one felt confident about the answer, so they reverted to what apparently is a common refrain when they hit a grammar roadblock: “Ask Kathy!”
Let’s begin by considering the meanings of all right.
all right as an adjective:
safe, well: Are you sure you’re all right now?
good, pleasing: My algebra teacher is an all right kind of guy.
satisfactory, agreeable: He thinks Chicago is all right, but he prefers Brooklyn.
all right as an adverb:
certainty, beyond doubt: He made the final touchdown, all right.
agreement, acceptance: It’s all right with me if you stay home.
satisfactorily: She did all right in the gymnastics tryouts.
Although some consider alright similar in meaning to all right, sources I checked do not consider it Standard English.
Some think alright is all right
Yet alright does have its defenders. See if you consider it acceptable in cases such as these:
adequate, permissible, satisfactory: Her answers were alright.
affirmative confirmation: Alright, I’ll join you for lunch.
Who remembers the popular soundtrack for “The Kids Are Alright,” originally released in 1979 by The Who?
Let’s pause to revisit the first of the above example. Does alright makes the statement clear?
Her answers were alright.
Were her answers all right as in all correct, or were they alright as in simply adequate?
What about all ready/already and all together/altogether?
To further complicate the all right versus alright question, let’s look at already and altogether. Why is alright not acceptable when already and altogether are?
Consider the differences in meaning:
all ready: prepared
We’re all ready for our overnight camping trip.
I can’t believe you’ve already been to town and back.
all together: in one place or in a group
We’re all together and excited to board the plane.
altogether: completely, entirely
She was altogether too tired to make the long drive again today.
The distinct differences in meaning help clarify why already and altogether are acceptable as one word. But because alright can have more than one meaning, it can be misinterpreted. That’s why I recommend sticking to the standard and widely accepted all right, especially in academic and business writing.
Even spellcheck agrees with me on this: Every use of alright in the Microsoft Word draft of this post was flagged, showing the correct use as all right.
We can’t ignore the abbreviated way we use language for texting, so we might see greater use — and greater acceptance — of alright over time. It’s not all right to altogether count out alright!
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