Grammar Moses: All right, already. Let's examine a-words

 
 
Updated 3/16/2019 4:46 PM
hello

We have aproblem, people. Of this, I am appositive.

Rampant confusion over awhile/a while, alot/a lot/allot, alright/all right and already/all ready has left me apoplectic.

My issues with errant a's go back to my childhood, when as a fifth-grader I'd listen to the Temptations sing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" on the junky pink transistor radio I'd won in a contest at school.

As I listened to the lyrics, I thought the nogoodnik being sung about was a debtor, among other things.

Why? I assumed the line was "All he left us was a loan."

I was thinking noun, as any fifth-grader would, not adverb. It made sense to me because "Folks say Papa would beg, borrow, steal to pay his bills."

Of course, today I know that all Papa left us was alone.

So I understand those who might misunderstand or misuse those tricky a-words.

Let's jump in. Don't worry, you'll stay afloat.

A while/awhile

As a noun, it's two words: Joey played his drums for a while.

As an adverb, it's one word: Joey played his drums awhile.

Save yourself some trouble remembering this rule -- as well as a few keystrokes -- and opt for the "awhile" construction.

Alot/a lot/allot

First off, "alot" is not a word, although I see it a lot.

In the colloquial sense, "a lot" describes a large number, volume or frequency of something.

To "allot" is to give a portion of something for a specific purchase: Joey allotted 90 percent of his broken drumsticks to women in the audience.

Alright/all right

This one is going to ruffle some feathers.

English teachers everywhere will tell you it's two words. Dictionaries will tell you it's two words.

Newspaper editors will tell you it's two words.

But popular usage advocates will tell you to relax and allow others to use "alright" without offering them a lecture.

"All right" was still by far the dominant usage in 2000, when Google's study of published books was concluded, but "alright" was showing a slow but steady increase beginning around 1970, the same year Free's "All Right Now" hit the AM airwaves.

I checked with songfacts.com and found seven songs with "All Right" in the title.

But I found 46 songs with "Alright" in the title -- seven of them titled simply "Alright."

That ought to tell you something about the burgeoning popularity of the alternate spelling and also of the derivative nature of modern songwriting.

Interestingly, Bob Dylan wrote "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" in 1963 and two years later released "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding.)"

If Bob Dylan can adapt, so can we.

The one distinction I can find between "all right" and "alright" is in the question: "Are these answers all right?"

The questioner might want to know whether every answer is correct or whether the answers are generally satisfactory. Sound it out, placing emphasis on "all" and "right" and you'll see what I mean.

Insert "alright" in its place, and it's clear the questioner wants to know only whether the answers are satisfactory.

Already/all ready

"Already" has to do with time. "All ready" has to do with preparation.

Did you already pour your morning cup of coffee? If so, then you're all ready to read the more important parts of this newspaper.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbau-mann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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