How to use altogether vs. all together

So what exactly is the difference? And how do you know when to use all together vs. altogether?

Cecilia Gigliotti
Cecilia Gigliotti

Although they fundamentally contain the same words, the phrase all together and the compound word altogether have distinct meanings and (usually) different contexts.

Unlike some such differentiations — like that between every day (the denotation of each individual day) and everyday (occurring on a daily basis) — these two phrases are dictated more strictly by their contexts. Both are correct but not easily interchangeable because one doesn’t always make sense in place of the other.

So what exactly is the difference? And how do you know when to use all together vs. altogether?

The collective

All together, as two words, suggests a collective. A group of things, people, or other entities being all together means literally that they are gathered into one larger group.

Example:

I’m so happy to have us all together again.
If you have a lot of reports, this folder will help you keep them all together in one place.

It can also be a stand-in to suggest something viewed from a broad perspective, taking everything into account as opposed to focusing on the nitty-gritty details: the grand scheme of things, the final analysis.

Example:

All together, the fundraiser brought in about thirty-five hundred dollars.

The adverb

Altogether, as a compound word, functions effectively as an adverb. It can be more complicated to know where it fits in, unlike the relatively straightforward all together. One easy way to identify it is that it’s often a substitute for “completely,” “entirely,” or “in total.”

Examples:

Communicating via text is one thing, but talking face to face is an altogether different issue.
Once the pandemic hit we stopped meeting altogether.
The traffic on the way out was bad; coming home was something else altogether.
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EnglishWhich is correct

Cecilia Gigliotti

I have extensive experience writing in a variety of genres, from literary novels to music reviews to academic articles. I appreciate the power of words.


Cecilia Gigliotti

I have extensive experience writing in a variety of genres, from literary novels to music reviews to academic articles. I appreciate the power of words.

Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

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