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Alright or All Right—Which Is Correct?

People are often surprised to learn that alright is not an accepted spelling of all right. Although the one-word spelling of alright is seen in informal writing, teachers and editors will usually consider it incorrect. To use the expression with impunity, it is best to spell it as two words: all right.

It’s possible that you stared at your paper in wonder the first time your English teacher marked alright as an incorrect spelling. It is equally possible that your English teacher saw nothing wrong with the spelling alright and that you are reading this because a coworker or editor has challenged you on it for the first time. So how did it come to this, and how did you manage to live your whole life to this point without knowing that alright is not all right?

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Spelling evolves over time

If you ever want to delve into a subject that is completely engrossing, read about etymology, which is the study of the origins of words and how they have changed through history. Words evolve in spelling and meaning over time, and in the case of the adjective/adverb all right, the accepted spelling is currently in flux. It can take hundreds of years for a variant spelling of a word or a two-word compound like all right to take root sufficiently before it is considered correct. Alright seems to have begun to appear in the late 19th century (Mark Twain used it, for example) and slowly became more common in informal communication—both in fiction and reality. This is true in both British and American English.

A good prediction would be that alright will eventually become accepted. Other English compounds beginning with “all” have dropped one l and contracted into one word, such as already, although, altogether, almost, and always. Of course, some of these words changed slightly in meaning, post-contraction, and alright remains perfectly synonymous with all right—for the moment.

Can I ever use alright?

In contemporary English usage, alright is, in many cases, all right.

While most dictionaries will list all right as the first and preferred spelling, many now list alright as an acceptable variation. Merriam-Webster and Collins are two examples. The Oxford English Dictionary considers this spelling a “nonstandard variant.” And respected style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook do not recommend its use, and advocate for the more traditional spelling of all right.

If writing in a more formal context, it’s safest to use all right.

In some contexts, alright will not work, and in all contexts, all right will never fail. Both mean “OK,” “acceptable,” “well,” or “safe,” but all right can have other meanings too.

Chloe’s test answers were alright.

This conveys the sense that generally, Chloe’s test answers were “just acceptable.” But what if that is not what you meant to say?

Chloe’s test answers were all right.

With all right written as two words, the most likely meaning of this sentence is that all of Chloe’s answers are correct, but it could also mean that Chloe answered her questions adequately. Another clarifying phrase would be helpful to resolve the ambiguity, but in either case, the spelling would be considered correct.

Here’s a tip: Thus, use this as your guiding principle: If you use alright in formal writing, you put yourself at risk of being viewed as a below-average speller. If you always use two words, you can never go wrong.

The battle of alright vs. all right is ultimately a no-brainer, because all right is always all right.

If you use alright informally in emails or texts to friends, however, your recipients will certainly know what it means. But when your writing is being published or evaluated, do yourself a favor and avoid this word completely.

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