[ al-ee ]
/ ˈæl i /

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.

Nearby words

  1. alleviant,
  2. alleviate,
  3. alleviation,
  4. alleviative,
  5. alleviator,
  6. alley cat,
  7. alley cropping,
  8. alley gate,
  9. alley light,
  10. alley-oop


    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

1350–1400; Middle English al(e)y < Middle French alee walk, passage, derivative of feminine of ale, past participle of aler to walk (French aller), probably < Vulgar Latin *allārī, regularized from allātus, the suppletive past participle of afferre to bring (passive afferrī to be moved, conveyed, to betake oneself); French aller often allegedly < Latin ambulāre to walk (see amble), but this offers grave phonetic problems, since the m and b would not normally be lost

2. See street. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for up one's alley


/ (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


/ (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

Word Origin and History for up one's alley



mid-14c., "passage in a house; open passage between buildings; walkway in a garden," from Old French alee (13c., Modern French allée) "a path, passage, way, corridor," also "a going," from fem. of ale, past participle of aler "to go," which ultimately may be a contraction of Latin ambulare "to walk," or from Gallo-Romance allari, a back-formation from Latin allatus "having been brought to" [Barnhart]. Cf. sense evolution of gate. Applied by c.1500 to "long narrow enclosure for playing at bowls, skittles, etc." Used in place names from c.1500.

The word is applied in American English to what in London is called a mews, and also is used there especially of a back-lane parallel to a main street (1729). To be up someone's alley "in someone's neighborhood" (literally or figuratively) is from 1931; alley-cat attested by 1890.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with up one's alley

up one's alley

see under right up one's alley.


In addition to the idiom beginning with alley

  • alley cat

also see:

  • blind alley
  • right up one's alley
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.