Altogether

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Steven T. Byington

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Altogether

To The Editor Of The Nation:

Sir: Can you, in spite of the war, find room for an appeal to the dictionaries on behalf of the word "altogether"? My complaint is that the dictionaries neglect the use of this adverb with the meaning "in all," usually (though not invariably) with numerical statements; thus, "this makes twenty-seven books altogether"; "there is enough of it altogether to make a good dinner." The proof that this familiar usage belongs to the compound "altogether" and not to the separated words "all together" is of various kinds: First, the traditional usage of those who have written the word in the past. Second, the two are often distinguishable in sense. Take examples from textbooks of arithmetic. "If three ladies come into the room at five minutes past four, and six at ten minutes past, and four at fifteen minutes past, how many come in altogether?" We mean the whole thirteen; "all together" would suggest the thought of those who come at the same moment. "If one boy raised ten chickens, and another boy sixteen, and another boy thirty-seven, how many did they raise altogether?" Here "all together" would give the same substantial sense, but with different syntax; "all together" would grammatically relate to the boys, "altogether" to the chickens. Third, "altogether" in this sense is never pronounced with two principal accents nor with a pause after "all" or a prolongation of that syllable. Fourth, there is not the same liberty of tmesis nor of omission of "all" that would be natural if the two words had their separate force. Fifth, if you use the adverb with the smallest numbers (which, to be sure, is not common), you say "there were only two of us altogether," not "both together."

Therefore, let the dictionaries take cognizance of this very common use.

Steven T. Byington

Ballard Vale, Mass., May 9



  • Steven T. Byington, “Altogether,” The Nation 106, no. 2765 (June 29, 1918): 757.