That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means: All Right/Alright

“It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”
—Bob Dylan song title

No, it’s not alright. Really, it isn’t. And Cheap Trick’s “We’re All Alright” is all wrong.

It’s all right. Well, according to standard English, that is. It’s two words. Even though alright has been used by such literary heavyweights as James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, and Gertrude Stein, and even though so many people use it. It is so common nowadays that it is included in several dictionaries, such as the ever-inclusive Merriam-Webster’s, which comments that alright “has its defenders and its users,” and notes that “[i]t is less frequent than all right but remains common especially in informal writing.” The New Oxford Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary similarly comment that alright is used widely, but is “nonstandard.” So alright isn’t all right? Not if you want to go along with style guides (like the Columbia Guide to Standard American English or the AP Stylebook).

Interestingly, the one-word alright is not a result of relaxing language standards. It actually appeared back in the twelfth century, spelled alrihtes or alriht, but with a different meaning (exactly) and was used spelled as it is today in 1664 as a sentence-ending “indeed!” Its use as a variant of all right didn’t happen until the later 1893. And then, as it is now, it’s more commonly used only in dialogue, quotations, or casual speech.

Alright supporters (and there are many) point out that it’s just another word formed of an “all” and another word, like altogether, so is clearly acceptable. But all together and altogether mean two different things, so the argument isn’t quite as pat as all that. So if you want to avoid incurring the wrath of grammar sticklers, it’s probably best to stick with all right. All right?

 

all right (adj, adv): okay, satisfactory
alright (adj., adv.): informal, non-standard spelling of all right

excerpted from That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means