Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

English can be a very tricky language, even for native speakers. This is partly because we hear so many words on television and in casual conversation, but we may not be so confident about how to translate that into the written word.

A good example of this is understanding the difference between “all together” and “altogether.” They are both perfectly correct within the English language, but they do not have the same meaning. This is not unlike the difference between “ever so often” and “every so often.” Just one little alteration completely changes the meaning.

So, What’s the Difference?

All together (two words) means collectively or as a complete group. For example, you could say that the fans in the stadium sang the national anthem all together. Similarly, you could re-arrange the sentence to say that all the fans in the stadium sang the national anthem together.

Altogether (one word) means entirely, totally or completely. It could also mean “including everything or everyone.” For example, you could say that there were 200 people in attendance altogether. Also, you could say that the advanced quantum physics course was altogether too difficult. You could also say that Buddy Romer has an altogether new approach to political fundraising.

What About All Ready and Already?

Related to the issue of altogether versus all together are a series of other pairs where similar confusion can arise. Some people may struggle with understanding when to use “all ready” and when to use “already.”

All ready (two words) means that completely (as in all the components of the group) prepared. The children are all ready to go to school. These TPS reports are all ready for your review. Some re-arranging of the sentences would have you saying that all the children are ready to go to school and all these TPS reports are ready for your review.

Already (one word) means prior to certain time. For instance, I have already written a blog post on may be and maybe. You could also say that he already bought a car or he would have already received the package by the time he left the house.

Alright Will Soon Be All Right

And here is where the grammar folks will have some disagreements. The old saying told us that alright is not all right. This is because alright, in the strictest sense, is not considered to be standard English. However, that is quickly changing and the two terms are starting to develop slightly different meanings.

All right (two words) traditionally refers to being adequate, satisfactory, or sufficient. However, it can also be used to say that everything is correct. The figures in this TPS report are all right (meaning they are all correct).

Alright (one word) is considered non-standard English, but it is being adopted more and more to mean that something is adequate too. The burger was just alright. In more formal writing, it may be more appropriate to say the burger was all right. The best way to avoid any kind of confusion or controversy perhaps is to avoid using these terms altogether. Say the burger was acceptable instead.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 post? Alright, let me know through the comment form below and I’ll let you know if I’ve covered that topic already.