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Is there a rule which determines whether it allowable for a word to be "merged" with "all" to make a new word starting "al-"

e.g.

1)All together -> Altogether

2)All right -> Alright

The first is generally accepted. Whereas I believe the second is technically not (certainly my English teacher used to condemn it).

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3  
Related: Is it “alright” or “allright”? –  RegDwigнt May 5 '11 at 12:33

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'll quote what my NOAD says:

USAGE - The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling alright is first recorded toward 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 that all right be two words when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, although found widely, alright remains nonstandard.

So, although alright is "older", altogether is considered to be standard.

Plus, as the OALD states, altogether and all together are not synonyms:

Altogether and all together do not mean the same thing.

  • Altogether means ‘in total’ or (in British English) ‘completely’: We have invited fifty people altogether. ◇ I am not altogether convinced by this argument.
  • All together means ‘all in one place’ or ‘all at once’: Can you put your books all together in this box? ◇ Let’s sing ‘Happy Birthday’. All together now!

And, as @Matt Ellen reminded me (us), not even all right and alright are synonyms, see his comment.

Other terms are already, as mentioned above, and about the al- prefix, the Oxford English Dictionary, says:

obs. form of all, retained in comp. in albeit, almighty, almost, alone, already, although, always.

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also all right and alright are not synonyms. All right indicates a set of things are correct, or right (as in: "these turns are all right, it'll take us in a circle."). Alright is a synonym for OK as in "Are you alright?" –  Matt Эллен May 5 '11 at 12:46
    
@Matt Ellen: yeah you're right, I'll add a reference to your comment. –  Alenanno May 5 '11 at 12:53
3  
@Matt Ellen: alright is an alternative spelling of all right, only used in the OK sense. –  psmears May 5 '11 at 13:04
    
@psmears: Well I'll be. I don't think I've used the uncontracted version before. Thanks. –  Matt Эллен May 5 '11 at 14:47

As far as I know, it's just a convenience, like words with the prefix in- followed by a p. Since n and p are hard to pronounce in a row, the n is replaced by an m, and all of a sudden we have a new prefix im-.

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The prefix there is im- not "imp-". –  Alenanno May 5 '11 at 12:42
    
Yes, I know. That just seemed more convenient than "Words with the prefix im- followed by a p". Hm. That sounds good, actually. Editing my post –  Shathur May 5 '11 at 12:47
    
Eheheh yeah, plus it might get confusing to those who don't know which is the real prefix. –  Alenanno May 5 '11 at 12:57

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