Words That Are Not Words: Alright and Alot

by Liz Bureman | 35 comments

As the English language evolves (and we start to learn grammar from text messaging), more words that aren't actually words worm their way into our lexicon. Sometimes we embrace the change (“okay,” believe it or not, was not always an acceptable word), and sometimes we send it back to the pits of hell (ask any grammar enthusiast about “irregardless”).

I'm spotlighting two examples of not-actually-words today: alright and alot.

Alot vs a lot

Photo by Allie

Why Alright is All Right

Alright is technically not a word. The correct form is “all right,” as in that movie from summer 2010 with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a couple raising Mark Ruffalo's biological kids.

But increasingly, “alright” is used in a more casual writing context, like in written dialogue or in that quick email you sent off to your sister about coming home for Memorial Day. The English language is sort of fine with that.

But if you're writing anything more formal, you're better off using “all right” to avoid condemnation from your superiors.

Why Alot is A Lot of Wrong

Alot is a completely different story. My automatic spell-checker on my word processor wouldn't let it sit there without compulsively separating it into its rightful two-word form.

It's universally accepted that “a lot” is always two words, and if you need further proof, this post about alot should serve as a reminder of why we don't blend those two words.


Take fifteen minutes and write about a pair of texting addicts. Use “a lot” and “all right” appropriately throughout, and post your finished practice in the comments. Don't forget to read the work of your fellow writers. 🙂

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.


  1. LarryBlumen

    Lazy cuss that I am, I just consulted my favorite grammarian
    by googling: “Bob Dylan a lot”.

    I got: “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.”

    Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby
    Can’t buy a thrill
    Well, I’ve been up all night, baby
    Leanin’ on the windowsill
    Well, if I die
    On top of the hill
    And if I don’t make it
    You know my baby will

    Don’t the moon look good, mama
    Shinin’ through the trees?
    Don’t the brakeman look good, mama
    Flagging down the “Double E”?
    Don’t the sun look good
    Goin’ down over the sea?
    Don’t my gal look fine
    When she’s comin’ after me?

    Now the wintertime is coming
    The windows are filled with frost
    I went to tell everybody
    But I could not get across
    Well, I wanna be your lover, baby
    I don’t wanna be your boss
    Don’t say I never warned you
    When your train gets lost

    Immortal words!

    • Suzie Gallagher

      wd Larry, you sent me off on a lyrical journey 2. Nt much 4 txtin!

  2. Suzie Gallagher

    If I was txtin den mi spellin an such wd b all ova de place. Prob rong place to do a gramer ting!

    But it got me trawling in a lot of places with the help of Larry Blumen and ‘Against Me!’ from Florida

    How Low Can …….. you Go?

    The low ebb is descending
    A rhyme from a pop song
    Reverberates the background
    It’s melodic chant daring her lower

    Tiredness all around no respite
    Sleep depravation increase the tome
    No good news war sickness
    No puppy dog tales only poverty
    Take it to the chorus litany of woe

    Shutters coming down
    Closing up shop
    Humanity good bye
    Sign off gone for a while
    I’ll be in bed

    Rhythmic clapping
    Stomping feet
    C’mon Eileen
    Darkness surrounds
    No white light
    Judgement descends how long to stay
    Am I ready to depart or interlude
    Difficult decision in trance like mode
    Get it wrong county homeward bound
    Heaven can wait let’s breathe in

  3. Katie Axelson

    My biggest not-word pet peeve is “anyways.” Despite what a lot of people say, there’s no S, all right?

  4. Cierra Justine Lynch

    I’m going to allot you a friendly comment for conjuring such a masterpiece!

  5. Dana Bennett

    I subscribed to this blog because I want inspiration to write. I am a professional editor and I find a post like this much more suitable to a blog about grammar and word choice. I am now unsubscribed because of one too many posts like this one. Bonne chance!

    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Dana,

      So sorry you feel that way. We write about grammar once a week. We write about word choice every day (because isn’t all writing choosing words). I’m so sorry if a post a week like this and corresponding prompts about wicked, texting teenagers are too much for you. We’ve had them from the beginning and have no plans to change. I hope we can still be friends. 🙂

    • Katie Axelson

      Dana, I’m also a professional writer and editor and I personally have come to look forward to the grammar on Tuesdays posts. Even though I’ve got a degree in it, I realize there’s still a lot for me to learn about the English langauge. Sure, I already knew “a lot” is two words but the review is always good. I use them as resources when I can’t remember the difference between the en dash and the em dash, I know there’s a post (or three) right here to clarify.

      As for writing, even the grammar posts have prompts. If a post isn’t what I’m looking for that day, I like to dive into the archives and find one that I’ve never done before (since I’ve been reading TWP for a long time, I also tend to come across prompts that I’ve already done but find myself inspired again with a different story).


  6. H S Contino

    I think that the important thing to remember is that languages evolve. As for words that aren’t technically words, I can’t help but think of Shakespeare. He was notorious for making up his own words (I believe they call them “ink horn” words). The English language was no worse off for his creativity.

    • Joe Bunting

      Shakespeare’s day was the armpit of English language history.


    • Bronson O'Quinn

      I prefer “bad grammar” to ugly language. Insinuating that anyone’s speech (whether of another dialect, culture, or even time) is “worse” than your own speaks more to your prejudices than theirs.

    • Joe Bunting

      I really hope you know I was being highly sarcastic.

    • Bronson O'Quinn

      Sometimes something gets stuck in my craw and I can’t shake it. That’s no excuse for being a jerk, but I do humbly apologize.

    • Joe Bunting

      No problem. Thanks Bronson 🙂

  7. Chihuahua Zero

    Heh, I used to use “alot” a lot until I learned why my spell checker was marking it with red underline.

    “Alright” is in a strange position. I noticed that “alright” was used in The Help. I prefer “all right”, because it’s a little more formal.

  8. Suzie Gallagher

    From the Oxford Dictionary:

    The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling alright is not recorded until the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting on all right as two words, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless it is still considered by many people to be unacceptable in formal writing.
    Spelling help
    Although all right can also be spelled alright, you should use all right in formal writing.

    And I guess therefore alrighty is a no no!!!

  9. Jeanaud

    I thought I was alone

  10. Church

    That is really funny, I was just talking to my Best-Friend about people who text so much they bring it into their everyday conversation. I used the word “alot” as an example on how the correct spelling of it is “a lot”. Great Post


  11. RD Meyer

    I no this is write – my spell checker tolled me sew. Your a fool if you belief otherwise.

  12. Cyberquill

    Awhile is a word, so I don’t see no reason why alright and alot shouldn’t be.


      I think when speaking in American, not English alot is allowed. American is a living language. It changes with time.

    • Davi

      I agree, I believe that ‘American’ is becoming it’s own language. Some people will say it’s just a dialect, but they would be wrong. A dialect is a different way a word is said, this, on the other hand, is a mixture and creation of new words. The creation of a new language.

  13. CC

    ‘alot’ was absolutely taught to all of us back in the sixties. at that time it was a word and so was ‘alright’. I think you might be a bit young enough to not know this but ‘alot’ was taught to all of us back then in school. who knows what happened back then or what made it change. it’s funny how things change and how one minute it’s one thing and then next it’s something else. either way, nothing is really ever ‘wrong’ it’s all in how you see things, things just are…..in every moment. there are bigger fish to fry than having to get upset over…..words. I think we can know what anyone means in the long run, that’s all that matters really. peace out.

    • oldwhitewoman88

      Not sure which school you attended, but was taught that a lot is two words, not one. I taught school myself and in the last twenty years, people started spelling it incorrectly.

    • Nevajac Frye

      100% correct! ‘Alot’ WAS the correct word taught in school – and I went to private schools! So was ‘ alright’. Don’t know when it changed! But I am thinking that people who use these forms are not lazy, but more mature.

  14. SenseSay

    What about the “word” conversate? People never “converse” these days; they conversate!

    • 1keith1

      I haven’t seen or heard that one!

  15. tswan

    I find myself torn with respect to grammar. I’m a grammar snob; however, I can’t help but posit that modern English is the result of a long series of mistakes that, upsetting as they were to proper users of middle English, became so pervasive as to be accepted. Think of it as natural selection for language.

  16. oldwhitewoman88

    I may be older than most, but “alot” was never one word! I see people using abunch in sentences and that is also incorrect. When in doubt, use the dictionary. I have an issue with people incorrectly using you and you’re in a sentence. You’re is short for you are. You’re welcome, NOT your welcome! Your house and your house is possessive.

  17. ☾✧ Katherine ✧☽

    I was taught it was alot, Im australian.. and I remember in year one, they taught us alot, mum, color. and how other countries spell it differently :/ Idk if they still teach that, but that was back in 2003..

    • Yewnique

      You need to go back and DEMAND a refund from that school!

      A lot

  18. Debbie

    CC… I so agree. I was to taught “alot” meant quantity (There are alot of cats….) where “a lot” meant a place (We played kickball on a lot close to home…). “Alright” was also a valid word. Comma structure is another grammar difference of today.. I was taught there should be no comma between the second to last item between the “and” (I like ice cream, puppies and pie). Today I am corrected by younglings and text editors that my grammar is not correct. I would give anything to have my old grammar school books where I can say “read people, this is what I was taught!!!”.. 🙁

  19. Sandy Leigh

    When I was in school, from 1975-1988, we were taught that “a lot” and “alot” were both words with totally different meanings…”alot” meant a bunch of something, and “a lot” meant like a parking lot or a “lot” of clothes. “Alright” meant ok or good to go, and “all right” meant everything was correct. So I believe that you are 100% incorrect in stating that neither are actually words, because they indeed are.

  20. Tim Donahoe

    You (we) Americans can make excuses about how we may change the language to suit our American penchant for change; but the fact is, that’s just a lame excuse for coming to the realization that you’ve been spelling certain words incorrectly … for years, perhaps. This is true “irregardless” of your patriotic fervor.

    In other words, don’t defend your ignorance by stating that other people are equally as ignorant, so it makes it okay. It’s not okay. It’s not all right. Just admit you’re wrong, already!

  21. Paul Jacobs

    When writing, ‘alot’ sounds natural to me and flows easier, but when speaking it is about 50/50. Being from Ohio doesn’t help because we slur’alot here.



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