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Often, you see something like

Alas, I couldn't afford it.

But isn't it possible to use it all by itself?

I couldn't afford it. Alas!

What about in combination with "however", as in

However, alas, I couldn't afford it.

If these last two situations don't work, are there any alternatives to "alas" that would work instead?

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It is not an interjection I ever use, but if I did then all four of your examples look fine. –  Henry Aug 19 '12 at 18:09
    
Hello EnglishWacko! ... the fact that 'alas' cannot be used by itself is a curiosly persistent notion! The source of this stricture was one Leonard Michaels, an nineteenth-century grammarian, whose 'The Growth of Language' enjoyed a long influential life both in his native England and abroad! –  Elberich Schneider Aug 19 '12 at 19:06
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@XavierVidalHernández: After that great introduction to The Growth of Language I expected you to go on to quote something about what Leonard Michaels said about 'alas'. How 'bout it? –  Jim Aug 19 '12 at 23:32
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I am curious to know how such an influential book could be so rare or unknown, to the extent that the Internet has no record of either the book or the author. (There is a Leonard Michaels, but he was a 20th century American novelist). Also, I should note that The Book Center appears to not be a library, but a bookstore instead. –  waiwai933 Aug 19 '12 at 23:39
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I'm confused. The "20th century American novelist" called Leonard Michaels (professor emeritus of English at the University of California) co-authored The State of the Language. I can't find anything about "The Growth of Language" –  FumbleFingers Aug 20 '12 at 3:02
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes, alas can be used as an interjection. Your example is fine:

I couldn't afford it. Alas!

And, yes, it can be used with "however." So your second sentence is also fine:

However, alas, I couldn't afford it.

Alas is an old-fashioned word that is rarely used in informal conversation or writing anymore. You might instead say something like, "However, I'm sad to say, I couldn't afford it."

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For reasons I can't put my finger on, However, alas,... sounds decidedly "unnatural" to me. Apparently others don't use it either. I know that's partly because "alas" isn't so common anyway, but at least people do actually write "However, sadly" –  FumbleFingers Aug 20 '12 at 2:52
    
@FumbleFingers You’re absolutely right. Can you think of a classwise synonym of either of those to swap in so we can try to figure out rule might be applying? –  tchrist Aug 20 '12 at 4:15
    
@tchrist: never? truly? –  Mechanical snail Aug 20 '12 at 5:13
    
@SF., do you have a source? I couldn't find anything that says that's what it means. And then why can you say, "But, alas...."? –  JLG Aug 20 '12 at 12:44
    
@JLG: sorry, seems I was wrong. Deleting the wrong comment to avoid misinforming people. –  SF. Aug 20 '12 at 13:07
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