English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Question title is enough. Can I use alas in formal writing , especially in scientific writing?

I do not remember seeing it a lot in scientific articles but dictionary references does not say anything about it informal.

share|improve this question
You will not see alas often in formal writing. Alas is antiquated, and used with knowledge that it is informally a bit ironic/sarcastic/anachronistic. Scholarly writing is not usually supposed to embrace these qualities. – medica Mar 13 '14 at 23:57
Alas, no, you will not see it in formal writing. – Oldcat Mar 14 '14 at 0:19
In my view it is a perfectly good expression, in modern use, though perhaps more by the literate and artistic. But I am just wondering how one might wish to use it in scientific writing. Perhaps in a mathematical proof... 'Alas, it cannot be a right angle as the square on the hypotenuse does not equal that on the other two sides!' – WS2 Mar 14 '14 at 1:33
up vote 3 down vote accepted

It's neither formal nor informal. It's a word.

As to its usage, it is a fairly old-fashioned sounding word. The usage has been in steady decline since the 19th century (according to the graph in the Google definition).

As a general rule, you can use this word in scientific writing, but I don't know that you would want to. Scientific writing doesn't lend itself to the emotional handwringing that alas conveys.

Alas, the data did not support the conclusion.


The data did not support the conclusion.

The first introduces a strange sense of emotion to the analysis. The second reports the facts in an appropriately sterile manner.

I think the big picture is that emotional assessments play little role in proper scientific writing. Even in the conclusion, I think the word unfortunately would be more appropriate.

Unfortunately, we were unable to power the study to determine the specificity of this outcome.

share|improve this answer
"We, the authors of this paper wept many bitter tears that the data did not fully support our researches...." – Oldcat Mar 14 '14 at 0:20
@Oldcat "After which two of our junior members ritually disemboweled themselves ..." – David M Mar 14 '14 at 0:23

Though alas is a formal adverb, I' d rather use 'unfortunately' in a scientific article.

share|improve this answer
Jinx! You owe me a coke! – David M Mar 13 '14 at 23:18

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.