[ al-ee ]
/ ˈæl i /
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noun, plural al·leys.
a passage, as through a continuous row of houses, permitting access from the street to backyards, garages, etc.
a narrow back street.
a walk, as in a garden, enclosed with hedges or shrubbery.
  1. a long, narrow, wooden lane or floor along which the ball is rolled.
  2. (often plural) a building for bowling.
  3. bowling green.
Tennis. the space on each side of a tennis court between the doubles sideline and the service or singles sideline.
Rare. an aisle.
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Idioms about alley

    up / down one's alley, Informal. in keeping with or satisfying one's abilities, interests, or tastes: If you like science fiction, this book will be right up your alley.

Origin of alley

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English al(e)y, from Middle French alee “walk, passage,” noun use of feminine of ale, past participle of aler “to walk,” probably from unattested Vulgar Latin allārī, from allātus, past participle of afferre “to bring”; see also amble

synonym study for alley

2. See street.

Other definitions for alley (2 of 2)

[ al-ee ]
/ ˈæl i /

noun, plural al·leys.Chiefly Northeastern U.S.
a choice, large playing marble.

Origin of alley

First recorded in 1710–20; probably al(abaster) + -y2, spelling to conform with alley1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is an alley?

An alley is a narrow passage between buildings or other structures. The word alleyway means the same thing.

Alley can also refer to a narrow path or passage behind a row of houses, such as one that allows access to garages and back yards.

An alley can also be a narrow street or lane—the word alley might even be used in the name of such a street, as in Elfreth’s Alley. All of these senses of alley refer to passages that are outside—you wouldn’t normally call a narrow passage an alley if it is indoors.

The term bowling alley refers to a building with lanes for bowling—which can also be called alleys.

The proper plural of alley is alleys.

Example: We took a shortcut through the narrow alley between the shops.

Where does alley come from?

The first records of the word alley come from the 1300s. It comes from the Middle French alee, meaning “walk” or “passage,” from verb aler, “to walk.”

In big cities, alleys between buildings are often very narrow—wide enough to walk down but not drive. These kinds of alleys are often depicted as dark, dangerous, or mysterious places—places where dangerous people might be lurking. In reality, they’re usually just places where businesses deposit their garbage in dumpsters.

A blind alley is a road or alley with a dead end (or a figurative dead end). An alley cat is a stray cat so-named probably because they often take shelter in alleys. If something is said to be up one’s alley, it means it is something that’s suited to their tastes or interests. The phrase probably uses one’s alley as a way of referring to one’s area of interest.

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What are some other forms related to alley?

  • alleys (plural)

What are some synonyms for alley?

What are some words that share a root or word element with alley

What are some words that often get used in discussing alley?

How is alley used in real life?

Alley is most commonly used to refer to the narrow passage between buildings or to the lane behind a row of houses.


Try using alley!

Is alley used correctly in the following sentence? 

Please pull the car around back and park in the alley.

How to use alley in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for alley (1 of 2)

/ (ˈælɪ) /

a narrow lane or passage, esp one between or behind buildings
tennis, mainly US the space between the singles and doubles sidelines
a walk in a park or garden, esp one lined with trees or bushes
up one's alley or down one's alley See street (def. 10)

Word Origin for alley

C14: from Old French alee, from aler to go, ultimately from Latin ambulāre to walk

British Dictionary definitions for alley (2 of 2)

/ (ˈælɪ) /

a large playing marble

Word Origin for alley

C18: shortened and changed from alabaster
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with alley


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.