The Word “All”

From Word Genius

“All” is one of the all-time great contributors to English. These three little letters do some heavy lifting. It can be used as a predeterminer, a determiner, or a pronoun, used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of something (“all the people I met spoke English”). It can also serve as an adverb, giving emphasis to “dressing in all black,” for example. It also appears as a noun, “I’m giving my all to this assignment.” It’s an all-around great word, but it can trip up all of us. Let’s review some of the homonyms that involve versions of “all.”

“All Ready” vs. “Already”

Like other “a” words we’ve covered, “all ready” and “already” sound the same when spoken (they’re homonyms). Context will help you figure out which word is needed. “All ready” is a phrase best used to let a listener know that preparations are complete. (“I’m all ready for dinner.”)

“Already,” in contrast, is an adverb that modifies the words around it, whether that is another adverb or a verb. It also can highlight that something is happening sooner than anticipated.

Example: They’re here already?

This modification suggests that visitors are here earlier than expected. Check the usage by substituting a synonym, such as “now” for “already” or “prepared” for “all ready.” Does the sentence still make sense? If so, you’ve chosen the right one.

“All Ways” vs. “Always”

“Always” is an adverb that means to do something consistently

Example: always go to the pancake house for breakfast on Fridays.

In contrast, “all ways” is synonymous with “every way.” In the previous section, “all” could be removed and “ready” could stand alone, but here, “all ways” truly means all. That said, this phrase is less frequently used. If there’s an exception, that means “all ways” is not true. But if “every” would work in the sentence, then “all ways” fits. 

Example: All ways into the city are jammed. How are we supposed to get to the baseball game?

“All right” vs. “Alright”

“All right” and “alright” were interchangeable until the 1700s when lexicographers standardized spelling through dictionaries. The two-word “all right” is considered standard in most modern dictionaries, but “alright” is still an acceptable spelling. It’s usually used more informally to mean “acceptable” or “okay.”

Example: You doing alright?

“All right” carries the same connotation of acceptability, but it’s slightly more formal. It’s often used to convey that something is correct.

Example: That’s all right. You don’t need to add any more information to the report. 

This guide is certainly not all-encompassing, but there’s no need to let grammatical details become all-consuming. Lexicography is not an all-or-nothing field, and all-wise teachers should inform you that grammar and spelling can shift over time. That’s all, folks.


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