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noun, plural al·tos.
  1. the lowest female voice; contralto.
  2. the highest male voice; countertenor.
  3. a singer with such a voice.
  4. a musical part for such a voice.
  5. the second highest of the four parts of a mixed vocal chorus, or the voices or persons singing this part.
  6. the second highest instrument in a family of musical instruments, as the viola in the violin family or the althorn in the cornet family.
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  1. of, relating to, or having the tonal range of the alto.
  2. (of a musical instrument) second highest in a family of musical instruments: alto saxophone.
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Origin of alto

1775–85; < Italian < Latin altus high


  1. variant of alti-: altostratus.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for alto

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

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

C18: from Italian: high, from Latin altus


combining form
  1. highaltocumulus; altostratus
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Word Origin

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.

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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.)

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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.