If you’ve ever read an old detective paperback or suspense novel, you’re almost certainly already familiar with the phrase “all of a sudden.” It’s used to denote an event that occurs as a surprise or in an unguarded moment.
In everyday speech, however, you might have heard people using “all of the sudden” instead, swapping out the indefinite article a for the definite article the. This could leave you wondering if one of these variations is more correct than the other, and — if so — which one is.
So, is it all of a sudden or all of the sudden? And why?
The phrase “of a sudden” first appeared in William Shakespeare’s 1596 comedy The Taming of the Shrew. It was understood to mean “abruptly,” “without warning,” or the like.
As time went on, “all” was tacked on to the beginning of the phrase, giving it a pleasing rhythmic cadence when spoken aloud. Even more frequently, in both the oral and written word, people opted for its more concise cousin, “suddenly.”
More recently, the has appeared alongside a in variations of the phrase. Both of these variants (as well as suddenly) are technically grammatically sound. The “all of the sudden” meaning is identical to that of “all of a sudden,” and you’ll be understood whether you say “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden.”
Even so, note that the a variant tends to sound more natural and fluid, as it rolls off the tongue with greater ease.
All of a sudden I realized my wallet wasn’t in my pocket.
This is not something that happens all of the sudden.
We waited until she was in the doorway, then all of a sudden we jumped out and yelled, “Surprise!”