Monday, July 2, 2012

Writing 101: When Al Shows Up

You know that guy who shows up to all your parties, even when he's not invited? His name is Al -- and if you're not being careful, he might be attaching himself to all kinds of words inside your ebooks. When Al shows up to the party, you'd better make sure he's attached to the right word in the right way...because he's got a terrible habit of showing up where he's not needed.

Al and Other Words

By now, you might be wondering who Al is. He's the guy that shows up in words like altogether, already and  alright. Sometimes, Al gets together with a word and everything's great. Sometimes, however, he's not actually creating a new word -- he's making a mess of your writing. 
  • All Together/Altogether
By themselves, all and together are two separate it follows that when you use them as a pair, they form a unique phrase that is more than the sum of its parts. All together just means as a group, like if you shout "Everyone out! All together now," at a party, it's because you're kicking everyone out. You can separate them, however, and the sentence will be essentially the same: "Everyone, all out! Together, now." 

Altogether is a different word, and it's got a different meaning attached to it. When Al shows up, he changes everything. When he's with together, the word is a single unit and it means wholly or utterly. "This party is making me altogether miserable." It's actually just a combination of all and together that appeared in the 1600s; the meaning is closely related to the older phrase. But since it's been around for so long, altogether is an altogether acceptable word. The same can't be said of all Al words. 
  • All Right/Alright
All right is another common two-word phrase that has its own meaning: everything's good. You could as easily say all is right and it would mean the exact same thing. Alright, however, is another matter entirely. 

It's not a word. Yes, Jim Carey lied to you ("alrighty then"), but it's okay. It's easy to get fooled by this one, and among some grammarians it's actually a point of contention. According to the old maxim, alright is not all right. But it's a pretty common mistake, and alrighty has been accepted into a variety of slang dictionaries, which only muddies the grammar waters. Alright is commonly used in casual writings of all types, but the official definition is all right, and in formal writing it's properly extended to two words. 
  • All Ready/Already
All ready means that everything is prepared, it's good to go: "We're all ready to read the rest of this blog!" Already, however, is usually used to mean something a little different, and it almost always applies to a period of time. Already means right now or at present: "We're near the end already?" The word was first used in America about a hundred years ago, and since then it's been accepted into the language. Since two distinct meanings have emerged, you have to be careful to use both in their correct context.

Other Al Words

Al gets attached to a lot of words, but in most other cases he doesn't make things too confusing. Continue to use almighty as much as you like -- it still means pretty much the same thing as all mighty, but generally almighty is reserved to reference a god. When it is used thus, almighty must be capitalized.

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  1. Lol love the video, nice post.

  2. I subconsciously knew the difference between these already, but it was interesting to read the history of it. (Actually, I hadn't realized "altogether" was a word in of itself!)

    Great post!