According to EtymOnline.com, alright was attested in print by 1884.
Writers argue about its use. Some insist it’s appropriate, while others stand on the no-nada-nix-never soapbox.
Who is correct? This post will try to clear the confusion.
What do the experts say?
I searched several sources and found the following results.
No, alright is unacceptable.
– Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott, PhD
– The Chicago Manual of Style
– AP Stylebook
– Lapsing into a Comma, by Bill Walsh
All right is the only form listed.
– The Synonym Finder, by J. I. Rodale
– Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr.
Alright is informal or nonstandard and less acceptable than all right.
My hunt through several Ray Bradbury e-books found no instances of alright.
After more research, I couldn’t locate a single source that championed the word. Does that mean you should avoid it?
But, everything is acceptable in dialogue, right?
Do you see speech balloons when you have a conversation with someone? No. You can’t tell whether a person is saying there, their, or they’re; alright, all-right, or all right.
Readers will judge written dialogue the same way they do narrative.
Let’s review a few examples.
“Alright, I’ll go,” Sherri said.
“Okay, I’ll go,” Sherri said.
In context, we understand that Sherri, if not happy, is at least willing to go. However, details are sketchy. Readers should know how she is feeling. We can show her emotions with a few details.
Sherri stamped one foot and glared at me. “Fine! I’ll go.”
Readers will now see a belligerent Sherri.
Sherri’s eyes sparkled. “Sure, I’ll go.”
This Sherri is happy.
Even though Trystan’s clay sculpture resembled a blob more than a ballerina, he knew the teacher would tell him it was alright.
Even though Trystan’s clay sculpture resembled a blob more than a ballerina, he knew the teacher would tell him it was good enough.
Note the strikeout of he knew. This is written from Trystan’s point of view. Of course, he knows. Stating it is redundant and distracting.
Why would a teacher inform Trystan that his mediocre work is acceptable?
Miss Proctor sidled up to Trystan and whispered in his ear, “Come to my place tonight, and I’ll give you a passing grade for that sloppy sculpture.”
Will Trystan accept Miss Proctor’s offer?
Trystan gazed at his lopsided clay sculpture and texted his teacher: “Remember. Passing grade or I release the photos.”
Two contrasting scenarios grow from the same idea.
A case could be made for avoiding both alright and all right.
When submitting your writing to contests or literary journals, you’re unlikely to know the preferences of judges and editors. If you’re writing a book, your readers will be split between the alright and all right supporters.
After reading this information, you might hesitate before using either form. Bearing that in mind, I located alternatives, including several clichés that would be suitable for dialogue. You’ll find them at the end of this post.
Exercises and story prompts.
Revise the following passages to eliminate alright, and feel free to use them as story prompts.
Even though the wailing of police sirens grew louder every heartbeat, Anton knew everything would be alright.
Of course it’ll be alright. I don’t have any on me … “Damn!”
[Why does Anton curse? What could he be carrying that might incriminate him? Can you turn this into a funny story? A horror flash, perhaps?]
Gabriel slumped to the floor, eyes unfocussed, and froth bubbling from between his lips.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
His body convulsed, contorting him into a shape that should have been impossible for anyone without double joints.
Of course he wasn’t alright, and it was my fault. Why hadn’t I [__________]?
To say Anja’s performance was alright would mislead my reading audience. It’s alright being a Broadway critic, but some days I’m at a loss for words when I encounter an actress like Anja Mehler.
[What will this critic say next? Was Anja’s performance good, or bad? In this instance, it’s unclear—an excellent reason for avoiding alright. The phrasing of the first sentence could lead to either a flattering or a dismal review.]
Never in a million years could Petra have expected anything like what she saw next.
Alright. It’s going to be alright.
Cold sweat turned her T-shirt into a dishrag within seconds. But that dishrag didn’t alleviate the sweltering heat rising through the vents in the floor.
Her gaze shifted to a translucent shape shimmering between her and her only escape—a security door protected by an alphanumeric keypad.
Twelve characters. Millions of possibilities. Maybe billions.
It’s not going to be alright. I shoulda known better. How in blazes am I gonna get myself out of this one?
[Petra could be a thief attempting to burgle something. But what is the translucent shape? She might be on a spaceship, struggling to reach the helm or airlock. Or this could be a setup for steampunk sci-fi.]
101 alright/all right alternatives.
You’ll find additional word lists at KathySteinemann.com.
Above-board, absolutely, acceptable, adequate, agreed, appropriate, average
Banal, below-standard, boring, by all means
Certainly, commonplace, corny
Decent, drab, dreary, dull
Fair, fair-to-middling, fine, fit, fitting
Good, good enough
Hackneyed, humdrum, hunky-dory
Indeed, indifferent, insipid
Mediocre, meet, middle-of-the-road, middling, monotonous, mundane
Nice, no problem, not bad, nothing special
Of course, OK, okay, okeydokey, ordinary
Passable, pedestrian, permissible, predictable, presentable, pretty good, proper
Reasonable, respectable, righto, routine, run-of-the-mill
Satisfactory, second-class, second-rate, seemly, so-so, sound, stale, straight up, sufficient, suitable, sure, swell
Tacky, tasteless, tawdry, tedious, tired, tiresome, tolerable, trite, typical
Undistinguished, unexceptional, unexciting, unimaginative, uninspired, unoriginal, unremarkable, unsurprising, up to scratch, up to standard
Within acceptable limits, worn-out
Yeah, yep, yes, you bet
Find additional word lists at KathySteinemann.com.
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