Alright or All Right?

You may have thought yesterday, when reading about the word almost, that there are a few other similarly-constructed words in English. There’s already, alright, and altogether, all of which are really just all + ready/right/together. And often you can replace the single word with all + together etc. Not always though…

Obviously, you can pretty much always replace alright with all right. In fact, some people insist on the latter, and dislike the former as a modern travesty (which has actually been around for hundreds of years).

Even if you’re fond of using alright, all right can be useful in certain situations. All right is reserved by some people, for example, specifically to mean all correct. This is actually quite sensible, as alright generally means just OK or not bad, a little weaker than all’s right with me (though it should be noted that OK probably originally meant all correct).

Altogether is a little harder to replace with all together though. If you’re referring to a group of people or objects, it’s pretty simple.

We did it all together, co-operation is great!!

If you’re using it in the slightly more abstract sense of completely or in total though, you’re generally better off sticking with altogether:

Altogether it took us there weeks to complete this project.

I’ve given up smoking altogether.

This might seem like an arbitrary distinction, but there’s a logic behind it. If you’re referring to a group of people or objects, you’re talking about all of them coming together. But if you mean in total or completely, you’re generally conceiving of a single total whole, not discrete parts all coming together. All together then doesn’t really make sense if there aren’t different things to all come together.

Of the three though, already is the hardest to replace with all ready, because its meaning has shifted so much from its origin. You couldn’t, for example, replace it with all ready in any of these sentences:

I’m already late!

I’ve already eaten too much today.

I’ve already seen this episode.

It’d be weird, wouldn’t it? And that’s simply because already doesn’t mean all ready. It means before now or up to this point, often in situations where something happened earlier than expected or desired.

Already originally meant in a state of readiness or prepared in advance, but that meaning shifted a little over time. It still has the temporal sense of before now, but it’s now purely about time, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with readiness.

It can be used in a sentence with such a meaning of course. I’ve already made my lunches for next week, or I’ve already written tomorrow’s blog post. Even in these sentences though, the sense of readiness is communicated by the sentences as a whole, and not just by already, which is still only giving a sense of time.

So, if you’ve ever wondered when you can use all together/right/ready, there you go. I hope you feel all right after all that. If not, clear your head with the always-winning combination of Sesame Street and The Beatles:


6 thoughts on “Alright or All Right?

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