Commonly Confused Words: Altogether vs. All Together

The 1980 movie “Airplane!” has a famous scene in which two members of the flight crew are trying to convince a former Air Force pilot with a phobia to land the plane because the captain has food poisoning. The erstwhile pilot protests, “It’s an entirely different kind of flying, altogether!” to which the flight crew responds, in unison, “It’s an entirely different kind of flying.” The spoof movie has a lot of fun with language and can be used to teach complex grammatical concepts such as how to use altogether vs. all together. In the example cited above, the humor comes from the fact that the pilot correctly uses altogether to mean “all in all” or “taken as a whole,” while the flight crew mistakenly thinks he means all together, meaning “at the same time” or “in unison.”

Altogether vs. All Together at a Glance

*Altogether is an adverb meaning completely, wholly, or totally. It can be used in place of the phrases “all in all” or “on the whole.”

*All together is a phrase meaning as a complete group, in the same place, or at the same time.

What’s the Difference Between Altogether and All Together?

It can be difficult to know whether to use altogether or all together. Because both terms sound identical, they are frequently mixed up, sometimes even tricking the algorithms behind some spell-checking software. As I often say, artificial intelligence is no substitute for the real thing, and because the machine is thwarted by altogether vs. all together, you have to learn the difference so you know if the program is correct in telling you to revise or whether you have the correct usage in the first place. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to know when to use altogether or all together because their meanings are totally different.

When To Use Altogether

If you are a writer of a certain age, you remember from watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” that an adverb describes a reason or condition or answers the following questions:

  • How?
  • Where?
  • When?

And yes, I purposely mixed up the order of the song lyrics in the interest of avoiding duplicate content.

Altogether is an adverb that specifically means wholly, completely, or totally. It can also be used in place of a phrase such as “on the whole.”

Examples of using altogether in a sentence:

  • The recent high school graduate was altogether unqualified for the advanced position requiring postgraduate education and specialized training.
  • Costumes for the Halloween party were altogether optional.
  • Altogether, I would say the bake sale was a success.

When To Use All Together

All together is a phrase that refers to an entire group of either people or objects gathered in one place. It can also refer to a group doing something at the same time. In that sense, all together can be used as a synonym for “in unison.”

Examples of using all together in a sentence:

  • During Thanksgiving, the family gathered all together to eat a meal and catch up with one another.
  • Over a thousand high school students in All-State Chorus sang the last note of the song all together at the direction of the choral conductor.
  • He gathered the puzzle pieces all together before putting them back in the box.

Sometimes verbs or nouns appear in between the two elements of the phrase all together. For example, instead of saying, “He gathered the puzzle pieces all together,” you could say, “He gathered all the puzzle pieces together.” Or you could say, “The family all gathered together,” instead of “the family gathered all together.” These grammatical variations are considered equally correct.

Tips for Using Altogether vs. All Together

The best tip for remembering whether to use altogether vs. all together is to remember that altogether is used as an adverb only, while all together is never used as an adverb. Altogether can be used in place of words such as completely or wholly, while all together could be used to replace parts of a phrase such as “The gang’s all here!” Tell us in the comments if you use any tricks to remember whether to use altogether or all together. Also, let us know if you have received incorrect suggestions from your spell-checking software regarding these two commonly confused constructions.


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