Today I’ll address another of those odd mixups that almost everyone gets, umm, well . . . “all wrong”!

Let’s begin with the “rule”:

It’s not only not “alright” to use that spelling (except in very rare situations, see below), it’s (almost always) just plain wrong!

Here are the formal differences:

all right (adjective): complete, entirely correct. “Our preparations for the camping trip were all right for the weather we encountered.” (i.e., we made all the right preparations)

alright (adverb): satisfactorily, adequately. “We didn’t have a cover for the tent, but we made out alright in spite of the rain.”. (Also used as an assent to something proposed, as in “I’m going to the store to pick up some veggies. Okay?” “Yeah, alright!”)

The real difference might be seen as one of degree: if something is “all right” it is entirely correct, while it being “alright” could be seen as merely “adequate” or “okay.” The effort under way to distinguish these is commendable, although (note that this is never written as “all though”!) it is as yet not seen as “proper English.” (Note: Although I used several sources to research this entry, as usual one of the best was Grammar Girl, although even she initially rejects any use of “alright” . . . before conceding that it is becoming more and more common.)

The added fun part about all of this is how the concept can be used as word-play, given that “right” is both a synonym for “correct” and the antonym of “left.” Add to this the fact that “right” and “left” define not only directions or sides of something (as in “right hand”), but also indicate political preferences, and it gets even more delightful.

For example, if you use the phrase “the banks are all right” in referring to the post-TARP bailouts, some wiseass could respond with, “but they always have been, that’s nothing new!” He could then be referring to the GOP-leaning politics, the “never-wrongness” of their decision-making, or the ongoing stability of those institutions. (Arguments could be launched against either of the last two interpretations, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this discussion.)

Similarly, if you take the title of The Who’s early hit (“The Kids Are Alright”) seriously, you can even see why they used that spelling. Not only is the word correctly used as an adverb (modifying the verb “are”), it would become ambiguous if it said they were “all right,” since it could refer to either their 100% correctness or their political views (and mostly untrue about the latter, certainly in the mid-Sixties when the song was written and recorded).

This multiple-meaninged word “right” (when set beside “all”) is thus maybe part of the reason people started combining the words.

The bottom line is, in the case of “alright/all right” the one-word construction is becoming more and more common, and may soon even make the separated one obsolete, as it has in so many other instances. (I, for example, stopped splitting words like “health care” and “web site” . . . about five years ago, and I’ve since been delighted to see “healthcare” and “website” becoming more acceptable, even in major-media print!)

Until next time . . .

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