All of a Sudden or All of the Sudden – Which is Correct?

When you are describing something that happens quickly and you didn’t expect, what phrase should you use?

You could just use a word like suddenly, but sometimes an idiom like out of the blue or all of a sudden adds a little extra flavor.

But is it all of the sudden or all of a sudden? Native speakers will probably say this phrase quite quickly in everyday speech, causing each variation to sound alike and confusing writers as to the correct spelling.

However, only one of these variations is considered standard, even though there would seem to be little difference between them in meaning.

What is the Difference Between All of a Sudden and All of the Sudden?

In this post, I will compare all of the sudden vs. all of a sudden. I will outline the correct spelling of this phrase, and I will show you a helpful memory tool that will make choosing the correct phrase easier.

When to Use All of a Sudden

all of a sudden meaning What does all of a sudden mean? All of a sudden is a popular idiom. It functions as an adverb in sentences, much like the word suddenly.

All of a sudden tends to describe something that took place unexpectedly or without warning.

For example,

  • I was just about to put the horses up for the night, when all of a sudden, a coyote howled nearby.
  • All of a sudden, twelve hooded druids appeared in the clearing and formed a circle around the cairn.
  • But sometimes you wake up too soon, and all of a sudden Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is throwing deep to Antonio Brown in the third quarter, and the all-pro wide receiver is making a beautiful 26-yard touchdown reception and twerking in the end zone. –The Washington Post

The idiom all of a sudden is an adverb phrase, which means it modifies verbs in sentences. Since it means suddenly, some writers have a pet peeve of people who use it to describe actions that don’t actually happen suddenly.

When to Use All of the Sudden

definition of all of a sudden definition of all of the suddenAll of the sudden is an incorrect formulation of the phrase all of a sudden. Given the fact that it’s not the correct spelling phrase, it is rarely used in print.

The below graph charts both variations, all of a sudden vs. all of the sudden, since the year 1800.

all of a sudden versus all of the sudden

All of a sudden clearly predominates. Avoid the error all of the sudden.

Trick to Remember the Difference

You should always use all of a sudden because all of the sudden is not the correct phrase. For the sake of simplicity, it might be an even better idea to stick with the adverb suddenly instead.

But, when you want add little extra pizzazz to your writing, here’s how you can remember that all of a sudden is the correct spelling.

Since all of a sudden would come before all of the sudden alphabetically (A comes before The), it should be easy to remember that all of a sudden is the standard version of this phrase. Since this spelling comes first in the alphabet, it should be your first choice.

Summary

Is it all of a sudden or all of the sudden? All of a sudden is an idiom that functions as an adverb phrase. It has the same meaning as suddenly, which means quickly or unexpectedly.

  • All of a sudden is the correct spelling.
  • All of the sudden is a misspelling of the phrase.