Is “alright” all right?

By Erin

In 1965, The Who told us “The Kids are Alright,” spawning generations of the use of alright in music.

In 2004, The Killers said “Everything Will be Alright,” Jennifer Lopez was “Gonna Be Alright” in 2002, and Janet Jackson said it was “alright with me” in 1989. The examples go on and on, leaving us to wonder if, in fact, “alright” is all right.

Scholars and grammarians are constantly debating the question of alright vs. all right. In common usage, all right is a synonym for okay or satisfactory, as in “Are you all right?” However, it can also mean “all correct”, as in, “My answers on the test were all right.”

In some circles, alright has become an accepted usage interchangeable with most uses of all right, particularly in dialogue:

Rob, do you want to come to the party with me?

Alright.

Generally, most editors and teachers don’t think “alright” is all right. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to stick with the more widely accepted two-word “all right,” especially in formal academic or professional writing.

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52 Responses to “Is “alright” all right?”

  • Danielle Gauthier

    This question arose during an English grammar test given by a placement agency. I was so used to seeing it written ‘alright’ that I chose to write it that way. Oh! What a mistake. Never again will I write it this way in a grammar test. From now on, I will write it in two words. Better to play it safe. The grammar tests given by placement agencies to French people are full of such grammar errors just to see how bilingual we truly are. Glad I have found this grammar site.

  • Tim

    This has been one of the strangest threads of commentary I have ever read. You have people berating others for using “alright”, while misspelling and misusing all sorts of other words. You have one guy suggesting that because using “alright” is improper, it should be replaced with “OK”. I laughed out loud at that one. You have a sundry of snobs who simply refuse to use “alright” because it isn’t in the dictionary. And you also have the “English-as-an-obviously-second-language” person who posted drivel about the most random and unrelated garbage on the entire page.

    Many of you made great points, and my favorite of these is “Thou shalt not say alright!” Look how the language has developed since the Middle Ages. I wonder how many elitist snobs became enraged then the “eth” was dropped from “speaketh”.

    “All ready” has become “already”, and “all together” has become “altogether”. “Alright” isn’t a bastardization, it is more of a clarification, because as two separate words, it can have two separate meanings.

    Some of the most recent additions to the Oxford English Dictionary include “bestie”, “cuntish”, “honkey-tonker”, and “wackadoodle”. To allow these words into the English language while boycotting “alright” is downright ignorant. If you want to use these new “words”, then that’s alright. In my opinion, however, these “words” are not all right.

  • philip e.

    I too was under the impression that *alright* was the accepted form. It conveys the concepts of -wellness (I’m alright) – and agreement (Alright!)- more gracefully? than all right.
    This is one instance of me refusing to play the stodgy pedant.
    iow — I LIKES IT, FRANK!

  • Bryan

    This thread is still alive? Well then… If common usage conveys meaning then alright a synonym for okay, which obviously is also colloquial so one has to search further for an acceptable replacement. Alright should in fact be replaced by the “acceptably formal” word that is its synonym in the context alright is being used (satisfactory, acceptable, etc). Obviously if you need to convey the meaning of an ambivalent acceptability (or satisfaction) then you must explicitly state that (until such time okay and alright gain their own entry defining this begrudging affirmation). In any case all right can’t be considered the correct replacement for alright in a formal context since the meaning is not preserved.

  • Hazel Jasper

    I find this war fascinating. I read them all (Past tense). I feel there is a shade of meaning between the two. I prefer “all right”. It just looks better on the page. Dropping one “L”, alright” leaves me hanging.

  • Ed

    @ LearningNerd – If you want to say that “the students were alright” as in they were OK…then why not just say “the students were OK”!?

  • Schopenhauer

    Language should not change depending on popularity. As a society we are breaking up words merely to save effort and time.

    If we adjusted to what is commonplace we would have text like “iz de piza redy.”

    You see this all over the internet. Just because “alright” has been spread by the rest of society as a result of ignorance, does not mean the English language should adjust to that laziness.

    The bastardization of grammar and words is not evolution.

    Instead of the world adjusting, we should adjust also.

    By the way, there is no evidence or support for the claim that “alright” and “all right” have different meanings.

    Please stick with facts.

  • John John

    Thou shalt not say alright!

    Language changes.

    Some people need to learn this.

  • Kirk Hale

    I cannot believe this. I am 54 years old and have thought that ‘all right’ was the degeneration of ‘alright’ into just one version.

    All right is self explanatory.

    “Are you all right?”

    The above to a Southerner, such as moi, could very well mean, “Are you (collectively) correct?” as opposed to alright meaning “okay.”

    I’m no grammarian but I am someone who refuses to punctuate while texting and I do know when to use the right two, to and too.

  • Cindy91

    I came here to clarify my conundrum… have had it for years. Thx so much!

  • Joke

    Alright, ‘all right’ wins.

  • Matthew

    I never use “alright”. I can’t stand it.

  • Dawn

    To me, “all right” sounds incredibly stilted. When writing dialogue, which is primarily where I would use the term, “alright” looks much more like it belongs in the flow of a conversation. Reading “all right” instead immediately pulls me out of the fiction, it just looks so awkward.

    I concede that, in formal writing, “all right” ought to be preferred, but I would argue that in formal writing, one would want to avoid “all right” altogether, as it isn’t a very formal term to begin with.

    I look forward to the day when “all right” fades gracefully into the sunset as just one more archaism, and “alright” takes its rightful place in the sun.

  • Alan

    “How did you do on your test?” “Alright” Meaning: not bad, I’m satisfied, on the whole the result is good.

    “How did you do on your test?” “All Right!” Meaning: 100% correct. A listener can distinguish from the previous by the inflections used.

  • James Jones

    Of course alright is alright. It’s become it’s own word with a unique meaning. “All right” is the same as “everything is correct” whereas “alright” can mean many things including a sense that something was good but not great “it was alright” which would not fit “all right”.

    That’s the great thing about language, it changes and develops overtime, often despite of snobbery. If a word, like alright, is used often enough then it becomes part of that language. To deny it’s validity, because it never used to be a word, is the same as denying the validity off all English words which is pointless.

    Maybe in 1965 you could argue that it’s not a word but I think 46 years of common usage is enough to give it the right to be alright.

  • Gary

    I wish I could remember the exact poem used by a college Speech teacher I truly admired. She was adamantly against the use of the word “alright” and said it was to never be used in her class or the speech and or the paper would be graded as a failure. My best recall of the poem is as follows.
    “The teacher and the students will always get along,
    When all right is all right,
    but alright is all wrong.”

  • Carol

    Jon on July 11, 2010: Well said.

    Additionally, while I haven’t looked up “alright” in a dictionary – yet- I will not be surprised to see it in there, since the ignorant misuse of a word is often (“t” not pronounced) the common way into the dictionary.

  • Christopher

    I agree with River_City. In the commonly accepted usage, when a person is asked how they did on a recent test and they reply “alright”, what they mean is “o.k.”, not that they got the answers “all right”.

    It may not be proper, but it is the basis for the more commonly accepted use of the term.

  • River_City

    Contrary to the post above, the best reason for accepting “alright” is that it does have different meaning. When we see someone have an accident and we ask if he/she is “alright”, we aren’t looking for “100% good.” When the person addressed says “yes”, we understand “maybe not 100% but good enough to get by.”

    The meaning of “all right” goes more to completeness or unanimity, which is quite different from sufficiency, adequacy or “good enough.”

  • Jon

    It’s fascinating that people perceive a difference in meaning between the two forms. They’re identical. You’d have to have a pretty weak grasp of English to read “Is it all right if we go to the park?” and not realize what was being asked. It’s a simple question of context.

    English speakers seem to be trying to eliminate the need for contextual clues. How pathetically lazy!

    For me it’s all right to use the older form. Laziness is uninteresting.

  • kim

    I use it all the time, alright!?!?!? ALRIGHT?!?!?!

    haha at the squiggly red “YOU HAVE SPELT THAT WORD WRONG” line underneath alright as I type it.

  • Rohan

    Wow. I never really knew that the several times I used ‘alright’ wasn’t grammatically correct. ‘Alright’ did seem like a funny word though, with it’s truncated spelling of ‘All’.
    Modern culture is so behind every major change in social communication.

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