Friday, June 28

One Word or Two?

In English, we have what I like to call the “All Twins.” They are:

All right vs. Alright

All ready vs. Already

All together vs. Altogether

These pairs are very confusing and a common cause of mistakes – not only for students and non-native speakers but also for native speakers.  

image courtesy of stock.xchng

Today we’re going to talk about the proper spelling of these words. And before you say that spelling and writing aren’t so important compared to speaking, you had better think again. In this age of SNS (Social Networking Service) and sharing – through Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ -- your “small” mistakes in spelling become huge and your temporary* mistakes become permanent**.

*temporary = only for a short time

**permanent = for a long time or forever  

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of spelling in today’s world of instant communication, please read:

Difference in Structure

Let’s start with one of our target words for today: All right.

As you know, this is a very flexible and practical word. But what people don’t realize is, in terms of spelling, there are actually 2 versions of this word.  

Take a look:

All right


Some people freely use the second version (alright), thinking that it’s original and more common.

As a matter of fact, all right (2 words) is the original and, between the two words, all right is more widely accepted.

Why? How did this happen?

Well, through the long development of vocabulary in the English language, we can find cases of words being fused together. For example,

all ready >>>>> already

all together >>>>> altogether

Maybe because of fusions in spelling like the ones above, some people thought that the original is “alright,” not “all right.”

Anyway, the arrows above mean that at different points in the development of the English language, some separate words got combined into one.

For example, “already” as a word started as a fusion of “all ready.” This happened around the 1300s. At that time, the word was used colloquially* in the US and for emphasis (stronger meaning).

*colloquially = in casual conversation, not in writing or formal situations  

Similarly, “altogether” came from the Middle English word altogedere, which was a combination of al (all) and togedere (together). It was first used in the 13th century.  

But be careful with “alright.” This word is much younger than our two words above. “Altogether” and “already” have been in use for over 700 years, while “alright” has been around only for about 100.

Yes, alright is starting to gain acceptance among English speakers, and in the future it might become standard. But at present, a number of people still consider it grammatically wrong and improper.

English is Changing

Let me just remind you how the English language is always changing. It’s not fixed or solid. If it was, it would be a dead language.

Instead, English as it is used by a community of people has never stopped developing. And it will continue to do so and become richer as a language. This is why a word like “alright” was completely wrong and unacceptable before, but now, it’s gaining more popularity, and in the future, who knows?

But for you as a learner of the language, it would be better to avoid gray* points like this.

*gray = not clear; not black and not white

Thinking practically, I encourage you to stay away from using “alright(1 word) and practice a lot with “all right(2 words) at this stage in your learning.

These days, the pairs of words (the All Twins) are what we call “homophones(words with the same sound but different spelling).

These are all very similar:

All right vs. Alright

All ready vs. Already

All together vs. Altogether

You’re vs. Your

They’re vs. Their vs. There

It’s vs. Its

As you might know from experience, pairs of words like these are very confusing to use.

Difference in Meaning

1. All ready vs. Already

Part of Speech

all ready
completely prepared
before / sooner than expected

Take a look at this example:

A: Are you ready to go?

B: Yes, I’m ready.

If you want to emphasize your words (make them stronger), you can say:

A: Are you ready to go?

B: Yes, I’m all ready.

It means “completely prepared.” So, if you wish, this can be a useful technique for you, you should remember all ready this way:

all + ready = completely + prepared

Easy, right?

It’s very similar to another Adjective: “set.” It has the same meaning as “ready.”

A: Are you set to go?

B: Yes, I’m set.


B: Yes, I’m all set.

As you can see from our examples, the word “ready” is an Adjective, and the word “all ready(2 words) is an emphasized Adjective.

On the other hand, already (1 word) is an Adverb. And it means (1) before or (2) sooner than expected.

For example,

A: Have you eaten lunch yet?

B: Yes, I have already eaten. / 
Yes, I already ate.

A: Pete, do you want to see The Hangover with us?

B: Sorry but I’ve already seen it.

A: Where’s Nicole?

B: She already left.

As you can see, already (1 word) is different from all ready (2 words). Already is a typical Adverb while all ready is an Adjective.

2. All Together vs. Altogether

Part of Speech

all together
Adjective / Adverb
as a group / at the same time
entirely; wholly; completely  

Let’s start with the easy one: altogether (1 word).


It’s not altogether bad.
= It’s not completely bad

It’s Ok to make mistakes as long as you don’t give up altogether.

A JPG file is altogether different from a PNG.

No, this isn’t Heat vs. Spurs. This is a new game altogether.

As you can feel from our examples, altogether means wholly or completely.

Now, if you want to use all together (2 words), you can do it in 2 ways:

(1) As an Adjective, it means “as a group”


They were all together inside the restaurant.

(2) As an Adverb, it means “at the same time”


Let’s do it all together.
(= all of us should do it at the same time)

Confusing, right? Well, you need practice to become good at it. If you want, you can refer to our table above whenever you forget the difference between the two.

3. All Right vs. Alright

The table for this pair should be easy enough:

Part of Speech

all right
Adjective / 
okay; satisfactory / 


But because the language is changing, here is what some people think about alright:

Part of Speech

all right
Adjective / 
Adjective / 

First, it’s useful to remember that all right (or alright) is mainly used in spoken English. It’s not advisable in formal writing.

This gesture commonly means "all right." (Before it became "like")
image courtesy of stock.xchng


A: Do you want to come along?

B: Oh, all right.

Don’t worry. I’m all right.

His answers are all right.

Some people are brave and substitute alright (1 word) in all the situations above. Some people also feel that alright is more modern than all right. And it has been used by some authors, journalists, and artists.

For example,

Alright with Me – Janet Jackson (1989)

Gonna Be Alright – Jennifer Lopez (2002)

And in some situations, alright can help make the meaning clear.


His answers are all right. = all correct

His answers are alright. = satisfactory

But like I said, as a student, you are better off practicing with all right (2 words) first -- in all situations.

Hope You Learned Something!

Keep on learning !

Tuesday, June 25

Why or How Come?

In English, a student can make simple questions like:

Are you American?

Do you speak English?

Can I borrow a pen?

These are called Yes-or-No Questions because they can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

But sometimes, a person needs to make a different kind of question. Especially when we need more information or detail. Maybe we want to know a name, age, size, price etc.

This is when Interrogatives become useful. Interrogatives are also called Question Words.

image courtesy of stock.xchng

Have you heard of the formula “5 Whs and 1 H”?

The “5 Whs and 1 H” are basic questions used to collect information. They are used by researchers, writers, and even policemen. To make a complete report, these people get facts using questions that follow the formula.

As a student of English, you can also use this formula. It’s very easy to remember.

The 5 Whs are:

(1) Who

(2) What

(3) When

(4) Where

(5) Why

And the 1 H is:

(6) How

Of course there are many kinds of questions other than the ones above. Here are other Question Words that you can see in English:

More Question Words

How often
How far
How long
How old
What time
How many
What kind
How much
What… for
How come

Basic Question Words

Here again are the 6 basic Question Words with their meanings:

 Question Words

thing, idea, or action

Because Question Words are used to make questions, we have to follow the right pattern. You might already know this but the most basic patterns in English are:

Sentence = Subject + Verb

Question = Verb + Subject

As you can see, the 2 patterns are switched. But please don’t misunderstand that the “Verb” is the same kind.

Take a look:

Sentence = Subject + Verb

Question = Helping Verb + Subject

With these, you can make examples like:


They are studying. = Ok

They live in Tokyo. = Ok

They can speak English. = Ok

If you change them into questions:

Are they studying? = Ok

Live they in Tokyo? = X

Do they live in Tokyo? = Ok

Can they speak Japanese? = Ok

As you can see in our example above, the word “live” is actually an Action Verb so we can’t use it to make a question. We need to add “do” which is a Helping Verb.

Both the other Verbs (are, can) are Helping Verbs, so they’re Ok.

You can follow the same rule with Wh Questions (questions that use Wh words).

Take a look:

What are they doing?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

Where do they live?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

What language can they speak?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

You need to learn and practice this pattern well if you want to make grammatical questions in English.

How come?

Our target expression for today is “How come?”

How come?” is also a Question Word. In fact, it has the same meaning as “Why?”


How come

Are they exactly the same? You’re probably asking yourself now.

How come” is a shortened expression. The original, complete expression is:

How does it come to be that…
( = How did it happen to be this way?)

Because of this, some people actually consider “How come” improper or even grammatically wrong.

But “How come” as an idiom is already a part of the English language. You just have to learn how and when to use it.


First of all, the structure is different when you use “How come” and when you use “Why.”

If you remember what I taught you, the question pattern in English is:

Question = Helping Verb + Subject


Did he watch the show?

Have you eaten Thai food?

Will you help me out?

However, “How come” doesn’t follow this basic pattern. Instead, “How come” follows the sentence pattern (!)

Sentence = Subject + Verb


He likes snowboarding.

It is hot today.

She has bought 3 cellphones.

If you change all our sentences above into questions, you have to switch their Subject and Verb, right? 

Does he like snowboarding? = Ok

Is it hot today? = Ok

Has she bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

It’s the same if you want to make “Wh Questions” :

What does he like? = Ok

How is the weather today? = Ok

How many cellphones has she bought? = Ok

And it’s the same if you want to make questions with "Why."

Why does he like snowboarding? = Ok

Why is it hot today? = Ok

Why has she bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

But look at what happens when you use “How come” :

How come does he like snowboarding? = X

How come is it hot today? = X

How come has she bought 3 cellphones? = X

Like I said, if you want to use “How come,” unlike with “Why” you should follow the sentence pattern. You shouldn’t switch the Subject and the Verb.

This way:

How come he likes snowboarding? = Ok

How come it is hot today? = Ok

How come she has bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

A little strange, huh? But that’s the way we use “How come.” So please practice a lot with all the different patterns.  


First, “How come” tends to be informal compared to “Why.” This means that you shouldn’t use it in formal situations or in writing (if the style is formal). The reason is that in the past, “How come” was a slang expression.

Why” is neutral and can be used in almost any situation.

Second, both “Why” and “How come” can be used to ask about reason or cause. But sometimes, “Why” is a real question because it needs an answer.


Why are you late?

Why did he do that?

Why did they sell it?

How come,” on the other hand, can become a soft question.  Of course it's used to ask about the reason or purpose. But sometimes, it doesn’t need an answer. It may just express an opinion or a feeling like surprise.


How come it’s raining today?

How come you want to stay here?

How come the tables are arranged like this?

Third and last, when we use “How come,” there is sometimes background knowledge. For example, Cindy told you that she’s not going to attend the party. You know this or you believe this, so you expect. This is your background information.

But at the party, you see Cindy. So you feel surprised. You can ask:

How come she’s here?

Why” doesn’t have this kind of background. You just ask:

Why is Cindy here?

P.S. The expression “Why come” is grammatically wrong. It is a fusion of “Why” and “How come.” At best, it’s a very informal expression. It’s usually heard in Hip-Hop slang.

Hope You Learned Something!

Keep on learning !

Any Questions?

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