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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Humera in Pakistan. Humera writes,

Question:

Amazing way of teaching. I would like to know the difference between alright (one word) and all right (two words).

Thanks.

Humera, Pakistan

Answer:

Dear Humera,

Thank you for writing to us. This set of words is interesting because it shows a possible change in the English language. The two separate words “all right” and the single word “alright” both describe something that is fairly good or acceptable. We use them in the same way we use the expression “okay.”

All right

Let us begin with the two-word adjective, “all right.” In this example, you can see that “all right” means something is not outstanding or special:

That writer’s first book was great but her second one was just all right.

We also use “all right” to talk about someone’s health. It means a person is healthy or not sick.

I asked Mom if she was feeling better and she said she was all right.

You may hear “all right” used as an adverb along with verbs like “seem.”

The milk is a week old, but it seems all right, because it doesn’t smell bad.

A keeper feeds an orphaned elephant with a bottle of milk, at the Reteti elephant sanctuary in Samburu county, Kenya, October 15, 2021. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
A keeper feeds an orphaned elephant with a bottle of milk, at the Reteti elephant sanctuary in Samburu county, Kenya, October 15, 2021. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

You will often hear “all right’ at the beginning or end of a statement:

Let him know I stopped by, all right?

So, you’re free tonight? All right, let’s go to the movies.

Alright

Now, let us consider the single word, “alright.”

Here is where you can see language change happening in real time. You can use it in the same ways we talked about here with “all right” as two words. In writing, it gives a more informal feeling. Language experts say that this written form is appearing more frequently these days and may be based on the idea that the expression is similar to the adverbs “already” and “altogether.” When you want to make someone feel better, you might say,

Everything is going to be alright.

You may also have heard this expression as two words repeated many times in popular songs and in movies. Here is the song Hey Ya by Outkast:

Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and André "André 3000" Benjamin of Outkast perform at the Voodoo Music Experience on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014, in New Orleans.
Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and André "André 3000" Benjamin of Outkast perform at the Voodoo Music Experience on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014, in New Orleans.

I say what's, what's cooler than being cool? (Ice Cold!)
All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right
Okay now, ladies (Yeah?)

However, you should know that some English speakers consider alright (one word) to be a mistake.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Jill Robbins. And I’m Faith Pirlo.

Dr. Jill Robbins and Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

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Words in this Story

amazing – adj. wonderful; very surprising or making you feel pleasure, approval, or wonder

informaladj. casual

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