altar and alter - the difference

An altar is an area of religious worship.
Alter means to change something.

Occasionally, there is confusion over the words altar and alter.


The word altar is a noun.  It denotes an area (usually a table) where religious worship or sacrifice occurs.


The ancient Britons used to sacrifice animals on elaborate stone altars.

We were married at the altar in St Paul's Cathedral.

Have you seen the water damage to the alter in St. John's Church?
(should be altar)


To alter is a verb meaning to change something.


Will you alter this dress for Saturday's play?

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. (Oscar Wilde)

Please altar your claim in Section 9. 
(should be alter, i.e., to amend or change)

Some Images for Altar and Alter

altar in church

eerie sacrificial altar

ladies alter clothes
Select the correct version:



People rarely use altar when they mean alter. It is more common for people to use alter when they mean altar.

In its catalogue, one reputable website calls this piece "Alter of the Hand." Ooops.

"Alter of the Hand"


See also:

Glossary of easily confused words
Glossary of common errors
Glossary of grammatical terms
What are nouns?
What are verbs?
List of easily confused words

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