I am wondering if the meaning of "they were alone" can be interpreted in two different ways.

One, they, the people, were alone in a place like a room, but as a group, meaning they were in the same place, but no one beside them were there/

Two, they, the people, were alone individually in different rooms, meaning they were all in a room of their own, each had a room and they were the only person occupying their respective rooms.

  • 1
    Yes, those are both totally valid understandings. Permit me to suggest a third, which is rather unhappy, but I have used it and heard it. They were alone might even be aimed at emphasizing that there is a sort of aloneness, an isolation, that remains even though they are in the same room and very near each other. This is perhaps more poetic, but it is a real usage.
    – user114352
    May 5, 2020 at 2:19
  • 1
    I would say the first interpretation is much more common, especially in romantic literature. May 5, 2020 at 3:07
  • It might also mean that they had something in common as a group (such as agreement on something), that set them apart. May 5, 2020 at 4:30

1 Answer 1


Both interpretations are valid, but interpretation one is much more common (probably because the situation itself happens more often). You can add the word together to emphasize it, e.g. in the following example sentences from Lexico:

  • There were a lot of opportunities for them to be alone together discussing her graduation project.
  • That winter the two writers were alone together for the first time, but it was not an idyllic experience.

For situation two, I'd be inclined to add separately and use isolated instead of alone:

They were isolated separately.

but it could also be clear from the context, e.g.

They were alone, each in their own room.

As others noted in the comments, it's also possible to interpret the sentence in a more figurative way.

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