Wordwatch Towers

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

Altogether different

with 11 comments


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


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”.


    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’?


      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!


      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.


      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!


        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.


          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.”


    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).


      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.


        06/03/2011 at 3:39 pm

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