3/9/10

Writing Tip Tuesday: It is NOT "all of THE sudden"!

In the past month, I've read two books that use the phrase "all of the sudden" as opposed to the correct version, "all of a sudden". In one book, the girl is young and a bit backward so I suppose I could give the author the benefit of the doubt and say she was speaking in the girls voice, so it was legit to use the incorrect variation which is sadly gaining way too much popularity. But in the other book it was narrative, not dialog.

What the heck? Both times it yanked me right out of the story!

I was all poised to write a scathing commentary on this but decided to Google it first and make sure I was still in the majority position. (Not that it matters, because I am still right and they are still wrong—but I wanted to impress you with the strength of my rightness.)

First link, I found this perfect article saying exactly what I wanted to say. So here it is:


It Is Not "All of the Sudden"!

by Tina Blue
at http://grammartips.homestead.com/sudden.html
March 30, 2002


Put simply, the idiom is "all of a sudden," not "all of the sudden." That may be all you need from me on this matter, so if it is, feel free to click on out of here.

Most of you probably don't make this error, but I know you have seen it and heard it. What surprises me is not only how often I encounter this butchered idiom, but where I encounter it. I have read it in papers by graduate students in English, and I have heard it from the mouths of pretentious and pedantic newscasters and talking-head pundits on television.

It is difficult for young people to learn the proper forms when so much of the language they hear comes from the mass media, and the mass media so regularly offer up the wrong forms.

Even those young people who read are likely to do much of their reading in mass circulation newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, those who write for such publications are often not well-versed in matters of grammar and usage, and even those who edit their writings--if indeed much editing is done at all, which I am beginning to doubt--may not be quite as knowledgeable in those areas as we might wish.

"All of a sudden" is an idiom. There is no logical or grammatical reason why we say "all of a sudden" rather than "all of the sudden." It's just that, until recently at least, no native speaker of English would say "all of the sudden," just as no native speaker of English would say "She was hit with a car."

True, idioms are shaped by widespread usage, so that if enough people over a long enough period of time say "all of the sudden," eventually that will become the preferred idiom, and someone many years hence will write an article deploring the fact that some benighted speakers and writers don't know any better than to say "all of a sudden."

But that day has not yet arrived, and until it does, the proper phrasing remains "all of a sudden," and those who use "all of the sudden" will be marking themselves as imperfectly educated, or at the very least as careless in their use of language.


Here are other people who adamantly agree with me and Tina:
  1. WSU (See their whole list of common errors HERE)

  2. Grammarphobia

  3. The Grammar Logs (scroll down about mid page)

  4. and lastly, Urban Dictionary (where I get all my most valuable grammar information)

Update: Thanks to Th. for THIS LINK. My idiom can beat up your idiom any day! (You have to click the blue "Make a Fight" button for the really fun part.

9 comments:

Jordan said...

I write with an informal voice, but I still can't think of a time when I'd use either.

Tina accurately points out that language changes over time. (There are many articles arguing that there's no such thing as "the sudden" and it's nonsensical, thus we must always say "a sudden." I can't see how "a sudden" really makes any more intrinsic sense.)

The article implies that when majority usage becomes "the," we'll have to accept it.

Google indicates that 14.6M webpages use "all of a sudden" and 24.6M webpages use "all of the sudden" (excluding pages that use both, such as this one). Is it time?

Th. said...

.

And I have a feeling most of those thes were of people complaining about those who the.

Jennie said...

Hear! Hear! You've hit on one of my pet peeves that has been bugging me lately. It's always nice to know I'm right. Great post!

Cindy (C.L.) Beck said...

I've never heard it said that way, but it would drive me nuts if I did.

One I hear a lot is, "Six to one, half dozen of the other."

Aaackk! We're not betting on the ponies! "Six to one" is incorrect. It's supposed to be, "Six of one, half dozen of the other."

LDS_Publisher said...

Th. That is hilarious. Never seen a Google fight before.

Jordan, NO! NO! NO!!! I refuse. Never.

And since Jennie agrees, I'm even righter than I thought I was! :)

Ooooh, Cindy. That would make me nuts too.

Th. said...

.

I've never heard six to one before. I might laugh at someone who said that. It's actually pretty funny.

Michele Ashman Bell said...

Great post. Since I am grammar challenged I'm sure I've written this phrase a time or two. Luckily I have an incredible editor who is so patient with me. This is one error I am planning to avoid in the future.

Jon Spell said...

Um, might want to warn people about Urban Dictionary. It's got some pretty raunchy stuff, if you're not careful.

Admittedly, though, some interesting information for user-submitted content. I recently had to look up the British slang "nang" there. I'm still not convinced about the origin they posit, but the meaning was clear. (a term for "cool")

Maybe I should try a Googlefight of "should have" vs. "should of"

Th. said...

.

Oh geez.

Vouching for the children of America, they do NOT know that one.