noun, plural al·tos.


of, relating to, or having the tonal range of the alto.
(of a musical instrument) second highest in a family of musical instruments: alto saxophone.

Origin of alto

1775–85; < Italian < Latin altus high


variant of alti-: altostratus. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for alto

deep, bass, low-pitched, resonant, sonorous

Examples from the Web for alto

Contemporary Examples of alto

  • But how can I say that when the protagonist is a talking bear who plays the alto sax?

    The Daily Beast logo
    What are the Best Novels on Music?

    Ted Gioia

    October 19, 2013

  • He previously served as executive chef of Fiamma Osteria, Convivio, and Alto.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Fresh Picks

    Michael White

    March 18, 2011

Historical Examples of alto

  • But there was one spot thrown into alto relievo by the sombre drapery of woe.

    The Story of My Life

    Egerton Ryerson

  • Drusilla Osborn was first, then Lettie Burley, an alto, came next.

  • I will alto make it a possession for the bittern, and pools for water.

    Bible Animals;

    J. G. Wood

  • Marjon accompanied him with soft, subdued guitar-strokes, and with her alto voice.

    The Quest

    Frederik van Eeden

  • Charlie took tenor, and Sybil treble, and I alto, and the sexton bass.

    Dodo, Volumes 1 and 2

    Edward Frederic Benson

British Dictionary definitions for alto


noun plural -tos

the highest adult male voice; countertenor
(in choral singing) a shortened form of contralto
a singer with such a voice
another name for viola 1 (def. 1)
a flute, saxophone, etc, that is the third or fourth highest instrument in its group


denoting a flute, saxophone, etc, that is the third or fourth highest instrument in its group

Word Origin for alto

C18: from Italian: high, from Latin altus


combining form

highaltocumulus; altostratus

Word Origin for alto-

from Latin altus high
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

Word Origin and History for alto

1784, "man with an alto voice," from Italian alto (canto), from Latin altus "high" (see old). Originally a "high" man's voice, now more commonly applied to the lower range of women's voices (which is more strictly the contralto), an extension first recorded in 1881.

The alto in a man is totally distinct from the contralto in a woman. The tone is utterly different -- the best notes of the one are certainly not the best notes of the other; and although in certain cases a contralto may sing with good effect music written for a male alto (e.g. in some oratorios), yet the converse is scarcely ever true. ["How to Sing," 1890]

As a type of saxophone, from 1869.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

alto in Culture


The lowest range of the female singing voice, also called contralto. (Compare mezzo soprano and soprano.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.