All of a sudden


What's the meaning of the phrase 'All of a sudden'?

‘All of a sudden’ means suddenly.

What's the origin of the phrase 'All of a sudden'?

‘All of a sudden’ sounds like the kind of poetic version of ‘suddenly’ that would do justice to Shakespeare. In fact, that’s what Shakespeare thought too, as he used the expression in The Taming of the Shrew, circa 1596:

Is it possible That love should of a sodaine take such hold?

[Note: ‘sodaine’ was one of the numerous Tudor spellings of ‘sudden’.]

With that usage, Shakespeare gave us the version of the expression that most grammarians now prefer. The modern alternative ‘all of the sudden’, which is preferred by the young, is disparaged as non-standard English. In fact, there’s no good grammatical reason to say ‘all of a sudden’ in preference to ‘all of the sudden’. If we go back beyond Shakespeare the variant ‘the sudden’ was commonplace; for example, in John Greenwood’s Collection of Articles [of Henry Barrow and others], 1590, we find:

I was compelled to answere of the sodaine vnto such articles.

Trend of all of a sudden in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.