Every Writer Should Know: These Common Words Aren’t Words

1175999_black_notebook_with_pencilToday’s post is something every blogger and author should know. Two common words you’ll find in print–and especially online–aren’t words at all; the first I’ve mentioned in a previous post about my grammar pet peeves: IRREGARDLESS.

“Irregardless” is not, and has never been, a word. The word you want is “regardless,” unless you’re using “irregardless” in dialogue, because the character speaking would use that term over the grammatical option. For some reason, “irregardless” drives me crazy.

The second non-word is ALRIGHT. What you mean to write is “all right.”

People get confused about “alright” because they think of “already,” which is a word, and has a meaning distinct from “all ready.”

  • “We’re all ready to go” means everyone involved is prepared to leave.
  • “He already left” means the action is over and done with. Temporally, it belongs to the past and is completed.

Similarly, “all together” and “altogether” have different meanings.

  • Altogether means “completely” or “utterly.” “We were altogether flabbergasted at the developments.”
  • “All together” means “as one” or “in unison.” It can also mean “in one piece.” So, you can say “We sang all together,” or “He wasn’t all together yesterday.”

There is no such distinction between “alright” and “all right.” For any and every usage in a blog or in creative writing, you want “all right.” “Alright” is not a word, according to the dictionary.

If you look up “alright” on dictionary.com, you get this usage note:

The form “alright” as a one-word spelling of the phrase “all right” in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as “already” and “altogether.” Although “alright” is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, “all right” is used in more formal, edited writing.

If you’re trying to give off an air of authority, or sophistication–and deservedly so, because you know what you’re writing about–you can discredit yourself among a certain sect of readers by using “alright” instead of “all right.”

Would such readers be considered pompous jerks? Perhaps. But they’re still your readers, and you’d still like to communicate your message to them. Why alienate when you can avoid doing that simply by inserting a “l” and pressing a space bar?

So remember: your characters are doing all right. And whatever that you decide to have them do, it’s all right by them.

Something else going all right at the moment is my free promotion of “The Crimson League,” the first novel in my Herezoth trilogy. Today, April 24, is the final day it’s free for download, so don’t forget to snag this sword and sorcery fantasy while you still can!

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45 responses to “Every Writer Should Know: These Common Words Aren’t Words

  1. One of the big downfalls to trusting your computer to “edit” for you. My computer will more often than not turn all right into alright. *grins* wonderful things these electronics… just can’t trust them.

    • oh my gosh what a fabulous point!!! you definitely can’t trust the computer. It’s good a picking up misspellings, as long as the misspelling isn’t also a word. But beyond that…. nope.

  2. Irregardless has always been a funny one to me. I assumed it came from irresponsible and irreplaceable… So to me it’s a double negative. In Australia we say “alright” but it means OK, more than it does “all right.”

    ‘Want to go to the shops?’
    ‘Alright.’

    That said, I agree with you entirely. If you were writing (even fiction) I would not use alright in the body of the article.

    • we use “alright’ that way State-side too πŸ™‚ cool! And I love your point about irregardless. I think you’re right about where it comes from. It’s definitely a double negative.

  3. All right – I got it and will not use ‘alright’ and ‘irregardless’ of what “they” say πŸ™‚ because, “they” I reckon, do not know as much as you.

    Thank you for highlighting,
    Eric

  4. What about using words like this in dialogue? Are there different rules for dialogue since you’re trying to write how people speak?

  5. “Irregardless” is one of the most irritating non-words there is! However, I am surprised that you included “alright” as a word that is not. I have to admit that I was spurred into looking it up in my own dictionary (a tenth edition Miriam Webster, if you want to double check me) and it says “…Since the earliest 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right, but remains in common use esp. in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue and is used occas. in other writing.”
    I only point this out to say that there is inconsistency even among official sources. Language evolves, and even though I would hate having “irregardless” recognized as a “real word,” I don’t have any problem with “alright.” It’s just another point of view. πŸ™‚

    • thanks for your thoughts, Emily!!! That’s a wonderful presentation of a different point of view, and I love to have it attached to the blog!

      You are definitely right in that language is a living, breathing, evolving thing. My thought is that since “alright” isn’t necessarily standard yet, I avoid using it in my writing and opt for the other spelling. My creative writing teachers drilled that into me. It is, of course, a matter of opinion and not everyone will feel that way.

      • I can understand that being taught to use one over the other, and it is a matter of opinion. Since there is no difference but spelling between “all right” and “alright,” it doesn’t matter to me which is used, though I always use “alright” as matter of habit.
        Your posts are always intriguing and inspiring, keep it up!

  6. I agree with whiteravensoars – ALL the grammar/spelling programs seem to think alright is all right, and they will change it from all right to alright. I think it is one of those non-words that is becoming a word as the language evolves. Another is alot. Alot isn’t a word, but virtually all the grammar programs now suggest it as a spelling instead of a lot. And you see it a lot… or alot. πŸ˜›

    • oh my gosh, what a fabulous point! I agree with “alright” and “alot” are becoming standard.

      like a linguistic prof once told us, apron” used to be “napron.” but eventually “a napron” became “an apron” and there you go! perhaps the same thing is happening with “alright” and “alot.”

  7. Correct, alright is not a word…except when it’s used in dialogue. Acceptable to break rules when you know the rules. Also, it’s not correct grammar to begin a sentence with “But”….But sometimes in dialogue, it serves a purpose.

    • agree with you! I tend to spell the word “all right” even in dialogue, but that’s me. I begin sentences with conjunctions on occasion, but that’s carefully done. Like you said, once you know the rules, you can break them πŸ™‚

  8. Love your posts, Victoria! I just shared this one on my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Change-It-Up-Editing-and-Writing-Services/362306400523555

    And I just corrected another common one in a manuscript I’m proofreading: anytime vs. any time.

    • ooh, that’s a great one! thanks so much for sharing, and for your comments and feedback. πŸ™‚ Also, thanks for the link to your facebook page. I’ll have to check it out. I’m not sure I’ve discovered it yet!

  9. Yes, I agree. One I have is when people say, “That is a whole nother story…” or something similar. For more, have a look at my blog:
    http://stephenlwilson.blogspot.com/2013/01/pet-peeves.html

  10. Thank you! Just thank you! As a generally strict grammarian and book blogger, these annoy me to no end. I’ve had yet to see any used in books I’ve reviewed, but I’ve certainly seen blogs with these words.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post πŸ™‚

      It can be a problem for indie authors who don’t have editors, I think. And some bloggers too, for sure.

      • Honestly, when it comes to editing I don’t give authors much leeway. I know everyone can’t afford a professional editor. However I should not be finding a typo on every page. As a book reviewer, that speaks to me of laziness and an overall lack of care in what the final product looks like as long as it sells.

  11. I had no idea that ‘alright’ should be ‘all right’. I just went through my manuscript and replaced about 40-50 alrights with all right. And some with ‘okay’ because an alright every 2 pages seems a bit dense haha. But I think I should be forgiven since English is my 3rd language. πŸ˜‰ #alwaysagoodexcuse

    • glad the post helped you! that’s amazingly impressive, if you’re writing a novel in your third language! πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine writing a novel in Spanish, which is my second language. Even though I’m more or less fluent. My hat’s off to you!

  12. Laughing! I’m guilty, guilty, so guilty. My Very Exciting Dog Walking Blog is spattered with ‘alrights’ as I casually greet fellow dog walkers. Sometimes I even lose the ‘ts’ and swallow the ‘a’…

    • well then, that sounds like your blog is meant to be informal πŸ™‚ in that instance there’s nothing wrong with a sturdy, friendly “alright.’ πŸ™‚ Language is always changing and evolving.

      • Oh bless you, so polite. I’m guessing you must be American? Anyone British would’ve rolled their eyes and told me to stop raping the language.
        Have a great evening, I look forward to following your lovely blog. I’d add a smiley face, but I’ve no idea how…

  13. I have been writing since I learned how to spell. Eventually, I learned that there was no such word as ‘irregardless’ (despite how fun it is to say emphatically), but I DID NOT KNOW about the other word. Now I do, thanks to you… all right! πŸ˜‰

  14. angel7090695001

    Never knew that alright wasn’t a word.

  15. I wish I remember who told me this, but this person said, “Always remember: ‘all right’ is the opposite of ‘all wrong.’ There is no such word as ‘alwrong.'” Genius!

  16. Hate to tell you this, but Merriam-Webster defends irregardless as a word too, but I still won’t use it.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/video/0037-irregardless.htm?&t=1373999695

    • That’s good to know, thanks! I see it constantly on “don’t use” lists because it negates its own intended meaning…. I guess the dictionary people are finally giving in to common usage (even if it’s wrong usage).

      Bah, haha…. I’m with you. Won’t use it either πŸ™‚

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