Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Altogether different

with 11 comments

English:

English: “You are altogether a human being, Jane? You are certain of that?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a quick reminder today: ‘altogether’ is not the same as ‘all together’.

‘Altogether’ is an adverb meaning:

  • ‘Completely’ or ‘totally’, for example: It was altogether wrong.
  • ‘In total’, for example: There were three children altogether.
  • ‘Taking everything into consideration’ or ‘on the whole’, for example: Altogether I didn’t really like him.

And, of course, if you’re ‘in the altogether’ you’re completely naked.

All together

‘All together’ means ‘all in one place’ or ‘all at once’. For example:

  • We enjoyed being all together.  (As opposed to: ‘in the altogether’.)
  • They entered the room all together. (Ditto.)

The Oxford Dictionaries site has an excellent explanation of the difference between ‘altogether’ and ‘all together’.

Commonly confused and just plain wrong

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11 Responses

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  1. Morning Deborah,

    In the same vein, I’ve seen, with American writers, “alright” used in the context of “all right”.

    Ron

    29/09/2010 at 10:12 am

    • Hi, Ron – I think ‘alright’ is very commonly used in Blighty, too. I’ve just sent the butler to the vaults to find a post I did on this just before the Crimean War. Just talk amongst yourselves for a minute or two…

      Ah — here he comes. Say what you like about him, his filing is second to none.

      Is it all right to write ‘alright’?

      Deborah

      29/09/2010 at 10:30 am

  2. Last night, before collapsing, I tried to categorize the words where you might struggle to decide if they’re one word or two. Here’s as far as I got:

    Most of them seem to start with A (e.g., any more, all right, a while). Others start with “every” (every one) and “some” (some time). Will update researchery as warranted.

    They’re not always easy. For years at work I incorrectly filled out a form saying I was available for a certain meeting “any time.”

    Michael Farrell

    29/09/2010 at 5:48 pm

    • Hi, Michael — it’s a bit of a minefield, I agree. ‘Any time’ is an interesting one. In the Oxford Dictionary of English ‘anytime’ is noted as a “North American variant of ‘any time'”. So in Blighty, you would have been filling in your form correctly!

      Deborah

      29/09/2010 at 5:56 pm

  3. I read that as “North American varmint.”

    Michael Farrell

    29/09/2010 at 5:58 pm

    • Also North American (I had to look it up): ‘A troublesome wild animal or a troublesome and mischievous person’. A North American varmint of vermin. Apparently.

      Deborah

      29/09/2010 at 6:05 pm

      • Morning Deborah,

        I’ve noticed – because it annoys the hell out of me – that Stephen King has always elided a while into awhile.

        He’s not alone, but since he’s had a lot of my beer money over the years, I feel entitled to grouse!

        Ron

        30/09/2010 at 10:23 am

        • Hi, Ron — ‘awhile’ is OK to use, I think? The ODE says it is an adverb meaning ‘for a short time’. ‘A while’ is listed as two separate words under the entry for ‘while’, meaning ‘for some time’. An interesting distinction! Also — I’m not sure if American usage differs. Thanks, Ron.

          Deborah

          30/09/2010 at 11:12 am

  4. From the After Deadline column in The New York Times:

    By dusk, Senate Republican leaders had decided to adjourn, at least temporarily, as supposed sightings of Democrats — and rumors of supposed sightings of Democrats — were alleged by seemingly everyone. Among the claims: They had been seen leaving on a bus altogether.

    This seems to mean “leaving in a single group” — not “leaving entirely.” So we wanted “all together.”

    Deborah

    06/03/2011 at 1:04 pm

    • The NYT has laid off a lot of its copyeditors (subeditors) recently. I have noticed a resulting drop in standards (particularly at the weekend).

      dw

      06/03/2011 at 1:49 pm

      • Hi, dw — that’s interesting to know. It probably accounts for some pretty basic errors that have been noted in its recent lists of corrections. Thanks.

        Deborah

        06/03/2011 at 3:39 pm


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