This sparks the first of my Wordsmithereens columns where I blast the hell out of some nitpicky topic pertaining to diction, editing, self-editing, or writing. Why? Because I’m anal-retentive with a hyphen.
Okay, writing bitches, today’s installment:
Alright vs. All Right
Unlike other “al” pals such as already vs. all ready and altogether vs. all together, which are both unique phrases meaning different things, alright and all right are not.
According to English Through the Ages (William Brohaugh, 1998), all right has been in use in the English language since before A.D. 1150. This two-word phrase is an:
- Adjective meaning satisfactory, as in agreeable, correct, adequate, suitable, or proper; safe, well; good, honest, dependable (slang)
- Adverb meaning satisfactorily; yes, agreed; beyond doubt, certainly (Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged)
Alright has been in use since before 1890 but it is not in standard usage as a substitute for all right. Dictionary.com states in various places:
Alright as an adverb meaning “just, exactly” is considered obsolete.
It is not all right to use alright in place of all right in standard American English….
The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.
In other words, you might use it in an informal email or chat message, but not in edited work such as business documents, novels, or short stories. In Write Right (2001), Jan Venolia states that alright is a misspelling of all right. The Elements of Style says it’s “properly written as two words”; thus ends the reading of Strunk and White’s Holy Word.
However, usage changes in the English language over the years, and use of this contraction may be on the rise. M-W’s Unabridged’s entry for alright says, “in reputable use although all right is more common.” And again from Dictionary.com: “alright is coming into acceptance in British English.”
My Opinion, for What It’s Worth—
If you’re writing for Americans and want your prose to appear professional, I’d stick with all right.
If you’ve been using alright in your writing, it’s an easy fix with search and replace. My advice: do it. All right?