al·​to | \ˈal-(ˌ)tō, ˈȯl-\
plural altos

Definition of alto 

(Entry 1 of 2)

2 : the second highest voice part in a 4-part chorus

3 : a member of a family of instruments having a range lower than that of the treble or soprano especially : an alto saxophone



Definition of alto (Entry 2 of 2)

: relating to or having the range or part of an alto

Examples of alto in a Sentence


She sang in her school choir as an alto.


He plays the alto sax.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Não é fácil, mas juntos nossas vozes soam mais alto equanto mais barulho fizermos, mais difícil será para ignorarem nosso pedido de igualdade. Pabllo Vittar, Billboard, "Pabllo Vittar: Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community," 26 June 2018 The alto cirrus indicate a change in weather, the mare’s tail mean high-altitude winds, the cumulus means building moisture. Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle, "Nature’s fortune-tellers predicted wild weather for Memorial Day weekend," 28 May 2018 Dawn McCarthy, whose Faun Fables opens the evening, lends her dark alto to the song and is answered by distant, ghoulish laughter. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Chicago prog-rock icons Cheer-Accident achieves a new creative apex nearly four decades into its career with Fades," 31 May 2018 At the beginning of the Mass for Double Choir by the Swiss composer Frank Martin, simple, flowing lines for the altos evoke the purity of Gregorian chant. Barbara Jepson, New York Times, "Interest Grows in a Master of Choral Mystery and Power," 25 May 2018 Mikell, an alto, is staying with family in Philly during the run. John Timpane,, "It's a joyous 'Gospel at Colonus' reunion at First Unitarian Church," 21 May 2018 Countertenors, males of the species who sing in the range of a female alto, continue to be the growth industry in classical music. John Von Rhein,, "There's a hot new countertenor in town. And he breakdances.," 17 Apr. 2018 Liz Gillies, a longtime friend, plays the husky alto to Grande’s breathy soprano. Richard S. He, Billboard, "Every Ariana Grande Song, Ranked," 27 Apr. 2018 Once again, it will be conducted by Suzanne Mallare Acton and performed by the Rackham Choir, the Too Hot Orchestra and an cast that includes tenor Rodrick Dixon, soprano Alfreda Burke, alto Karen Marie Richardson and pianist Alvin Waddles. David Lyman, Detroit Free Press, "MOT's 2018-19 season includes 'Eugene Onegin,' 'Candide' and 'Grapes of Wrath'," 13 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Dexter took up the alto sax at 14, switching at 15 to the tenor that his mother bought him to fit his tall frame. Clifford Thompson, WSJ, "‘Sophisticated Giant’ Review: Long Tall Tenor Man," 1 Nov. 2018 For this evening’s performance Willitz is joined by guitarist Rami Atassi, drummer Raul Cotaquispe, and Ward, who rather than playing alto sax will sing through a loop station to produce wordless textures. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Caleb Willitz perpetually refines his pensive folk-rock sound by working with some of Chicago’s strongest improvisers," 12 July 2018 Ah Young Hong and Kiera Duffy, sopranos; Michael Hersch, and Amy Yang, piano; Gary Louie, alto saxophone; Members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Chronicle Staff Report, San Francisco Chronicle, "Classical music and dance listings," 7 June 2018 With a new lineup solidified — and Diaz, guitarist Keith Whatley, alto saxophone player Tony McCullough and drummer Audi Jones still at the core — Groove 8 got to work. Courtney Devores, charlotteobserver, "With A-list connections and new lineup, Groove 8 is back at it with new EP," 21 June 2018 Both will feature soprano and alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra, trombonist Jeb Bishop, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, and bassist Nate McBride, with Luther Gray on drums for the first and Eric Rosenthal for the second., "The Ticket: What’s happening in the local arts world," 8 June 2018 In 1992, alto saxophonist and composer John Zorn, then a singular fixture of New York’s Downtown scene, set out to explore his Jewish heritage. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "A Personal Statement Turned Ritual Music," 5 June 2018 His father, the alto saxophonist, bandleader, composer and educator Jackie McLean, had gotten early lessons and pointers from artists like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. John Adamian,, "Rene McLean To Perform At The Artists Collective," 12 May 2018 What Bird did with his alto saxophone Jordan still does with her voice — not as fast, of course, but with similar timelessness. Howard Reich,, "Sheila Jordan revisits her classic 'Portrait of Sheila' at Green Mill," 21 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alto.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of alto


1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1724, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for alto


Italian, literally, high, from Latin altus

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Dictionary Entries near alto

Alt key




Alto Adige

alto clarinet

alto clef

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The first known use of alto was in 1611

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English Language Learners Definition of alto

 (Entry 1 of 2)

music : a singing voice that is lower than the voice of a soprano and higher than the voice of a tenor; also : a singer having such a voice



English Language Learners Definition of alto (Entry 2 of 2)

: having a range that is lower than a soprano and higher than a tenor


al·​to | \ˈal-tō \
plural altos

Kids Definition of alto

1 : the lowest female singing voice

2 : the second highest part in harmony that has four parts

3 : a singer or an instrument having an alto range or part

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Spanish Central: Translation of alto

Nglish: Translation of alto for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about alto

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to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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