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 always 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?
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 rightto take root sufficiently before it is considered correct. Alrightseems 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?
The quick answer is no, for two reasons.
The first is simply that no established dictionary fully accepts alright as a correct spelling. At worst, it is not listed or is flagged as wrong, and at best, as in the Oxford English Dictionary, it is considered a “nonstandard variant.” Respected style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook forbid its use.
The second reason is that 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.
This conveys the sense that generally, Chloe’s test answers were “just acceptable.” But what if that is not what you meant to say?
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.
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.