The Real Paul Jones

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Alright, All Right, Already

Sally who has taught grammar tells me that my alright is either a misspelling or vulgar. I prefer the second of course. I would rather be vulgar than wrong.

Merriam-Webster online says:

The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing. “the first two years of medical school were alright” — Gertrude Stein.

But those 20th Century critics include the American Heritage Dictionary and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage both of which nurtured Sally’s English PhD.

Still more recent versions (1996) of the American Heritage Book of English Usage are milder on alright while not giving in to it:

Is it all right to use alright? Despite the appearance of alright in the works of such well-known writers as Flannery O’Connor, Langston Hughes, and James Joyce, the merger of all and right has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions like already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright (at least in its current meaning) has only been around for a little over a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. You might think a century would be plenty of time for such an unimposing spelling to gain acceptance as a standard variant, and you will undoubtedly come across alright in magazine and newspaper articles. But if you decide to use alright, especially in formal writing, you run the risk that some of your readers will view it as an error, while others may think you are willfully breaking convention.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English is blunt:

All right is the only spelling Standard English recognizes.

Evan Morris, aka Word Detective, is broader and gives a better feel for the what and why for alright. WD is a bit long but worth the read:

After mentioning how Fowler dismisses alright (in 1926) and later how Harper did as well, Morris gives us this:

On the other hand, Bergen and Cornelia Evans, in their “Dictionary of Contemporary Usage,” point out that there’s a case to be made for “alright.” Using “alright” as a synonym for “O.K.” or “satisfactory,” they note, “would allow us to make the distinction between ‘the answers are alright’ (satisfactory) and ‘the answers were all right’ (every one of them).”

Convinced me (but that didn’t take too much. Will it convince Sally?).

Morris also covers the rise of O.K. on the same web page.

The Word Maven at Random House has interesting tales to tell in the alright/all right wars including how people were outraged over the “Kids are alright” or are all the kids right as in the “Kids are all right“? Obviously the first is clearer but…

Well, read the article, alright?

Thanks to Roger for stirring this up. As he says “I trust everything will turn out all right” or is it “I Trust (Everything Is Gonna Work Out Alright)”?

UPDATE: Pam Nelson the NandO Gammar Mediator is not all right with alright either, but when it comes to rock and roll, the kids are more likely to be alright than all right even she somewhat admits.


  1. Hehehe. I enjoyed this post! I prefer “alright” myself. I think it’s definitely a term that should be considered a single word anyway, like “altogether” and “already”. Does anyone really think of it as being more than one word, anymore than we think of “OK” as “oh kay”? 🙂

  2. I liked this article too, it’s always interesting to watch grammar wars. It does indeed seem that changes in conventions only seem particularly obtrusive or disruptive when they happen in our time (which, according to the American Heritage, would be a period of more than a century). I think that “alright” should be acceptable, and considering its persistance, will probably enter the canon in the end — especially for making the distinction between “all being right” and “being okay.” That’s a valid argument. I suppose we’ll just have to use “all right” in formal writing, and “alright” everywhere else until it’s acceptable in both arenas.

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