All right is spelled as two words. Period.
But, yes, you’re going to find alright in the dictionary. That doesn’t mean it’s all right (ha!) to use it. After all, ain’t is in there, too. Dictionaries don’t define how to use words correctly; that’s what usage guides are for. Rather, dictionaries record how words are actually used. And, yes, alright is used, but dictionaries will likely label it as “informal” or “nonstandard.”
However, that doesn’t preclude you from using alright in dialogue. As we’re well aware, people don’t speak in standard written English, so our characters shouldn’t either, so I would never object to seeing, say, them when his or her is correct inside quotation marks.
Now, you might argue that all right and alright are pronounced the same, so why not opt for the correct two-word spelling. Your point would be well taken, but playwrights, for example, might argue that alright is actually pronounced differently from all right, the syllables run slightly together rather than distinct.
Generally I’m a pretty strict adherent to standard written English, but when we’re dealing with fictional dialogue, all bets are off.
Do you have a question about usage? Let me know, and we’ll discuss it in a future installment of Usage Thursday.
“alright.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 20 August 2009 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alright>
Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.
Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.
Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.