Q: What is the correct written form of the phrase “all right”? I see it quite often as one word, “alright,” but I believe that is incorrect. Is it?
A: Traditionally, “alright” is not all right. I give this example of the correct usage in my grammar book Woe Is I: “All right, I’ll let you whitewash the fence!” said Tom.
Unfortunately, we now see the one-word spelling (“alright”) almost every day. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) still calls “alright” nonstandard, though Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says “it has its defenders and its users.”
To be fair, a one-word version of “all right” in various spellings has been seen in print since as far back as the 12th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The word (initially spelled “alrihtes” and “alriht”) made its first appearances as an adverb meaning just or exactly.
Although the OED has only two citations for the one-worder from the 12th and 13th centuries, the dictionary says “alright” has been “a frequent spelling of all right” since the late 19th century.
And it’s been a frequent target of scorn from usage experts. H.W. Fowler, for instance, had this to say back in 1926: “The words should always be written separate; there are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright.”
Is that still true? Or is the one-worder now acceptable? Well, “all right” is more popular (90 million hits on Google), but “alright” isn’t exactly a wallflower (58 million).
We the jury (the people who use the language) will ultimately decide. I vote guilty. For now, “alright” is all wrong.
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