A few months ago in a Slack channel for podcasters, one of my friends posted a grammar gripe. He wrote,
This grammar pet peeve has been bugging me a lot lately because I’ve seen it used in very prominent places: “all of a sudden …”
It’s supposed to be “all of _the_ sudden,” but simply saying, “suddenly” sounds a whole lot more grown up.
It was interesting because he had it backwards. “All of a sudden” is the right way to say it, but when he heard it that way, apparently it bugged him. I’ve occasionally gotten questions about the phrase over the years, but in the week after my friend raised the issue, I got two or three more questions about these “all of [something] sudden” phrases, so I decided it was time to look into it more deeply than I had when I just gave people simple answers before.
‘All of a Sudden’ Is the Correct Form
First, “all of the sudden” is definitely a phrase you should avoid.
Garner’s Modern English Usage includes an entry on “all of the sudden” and pegs it at stage 1 on the language change index, which means “rejected.” In other words, still totally wrong.
The correct phrase in English is “all of a sudden,” not “all of the sudden.”
The Chicago Manual of Style Q&A section says: “[the] CMOS is silent on the issue, but ‘all of the sudden’ is not idiomatic and normally would be edited to ‘all of a sudden.”
Even if you look at much more informal language, “all of a sudden” is the clear winner. For example, in Mark Davies’ BYU corpus of language used in TV shows since the 1950s, there are more than 5,500 instances of “all of a sudden” and only 133 of “all of the sudden.”
‘All of the Sudden’ Doesn’t Seem to Be Regional
Next, I wondered whether “all of the sudden” could be a regional saying, since my friend who complained is from Ohio, and another friend who is in the Slack channel and also from Ohio also said he’s an “all of the sudden” kind of guy. But Gabe Doyle of the Motivated Grammar website looked at tweets that used “all of a sudden” and “all of the sudden” and didn’t find any evidence that there’s a regional difference. There doesn’t seem to be a place where people are more likely to say “all of the sudden.”