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Alliances and Alignments

In this day of countless reality television shows consisting of elaborate social experiments where people band together to vote other contestants off an island, out of a mansion, and out of the game itself, it never ceases to amaze me how prevalent the incorrect use of the verb “align” has become when referring to an alliance.


“I decided to align with Tom on Day One, but then our alliance was broken when Tom aligned with Dick. So then I had to align with Harry.”


By the time I post this, this error may very well become have become so common that it is deemed acceptable. This happened with the word “orientate”, which is now in our dictionary as a result of the overwhelming incorrect use of the word in society. This was typically done by people (with good intentions) throwing it into conversation in an effort to sound more schooled than they really are. (Recall Damon Wayans’ classic parody from In Living Color, where he played an artificially articulate prison inmate.)

Social acceptance of error doesn’t make it correct.

It’s ally, people. Ally. The verb. Emphasise the second syllable, so you pronounce it “a lie“. It’s the root of alliance. The past-tense allied can be pronounced two ways; it can rhyme with either “gal ride” or “collide”. I allied with Tom on Day One, but then our alliance was broken when Tom allied with Dick. So then I had to ally with Harry.

It’s not align. Align is the root of alignment. While an alliance is figuratively synonymous to an alignment, the words are in fact unrelated. If you’re aligning with somebody, talk about your alignment, not your alliance. If you’re creating an alliance with somebody, you’re allying with them, not aligning. Just be consistent.

Okay? Please? Thanks.

2 comments… add one
  • luke June 8, 2006, 8:19 am

    the problem is not the word align. the problem is not using an object to be aligned. correct use would be “tom aligned himself with john.”

    that being said, AH dictionary lists “To ally (oneself, for example) with one side of an argument or cause” as the third definition for align.

  • jaced.com June 8, 2006, 10:31 am

    Like I said, “ally” and “align” are conceptually similar. There are many other words that would loosely fit into this group (band, cooperate, collaborate, etc.)

    What peeves me is when “align” is used specifically, simply because it’s phonetically similar to “alliance”. While it may not be entirely incorrect according to the dictionary, it’s still rooted in a misunderstanding of the two words.

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