Altar or Alter?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Altar" and "Alter"?

"Altar" and "alter" are easy to confuse because they sound so similar.
  • "Altar" is an area of religious worship. For example:
    • We stood at the church altar. correct tick
  • "Alter" means to change something. For example:
    • Turn this wheel to alter the ship's course. correct tick

More about "Altar" and "Alter"

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


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

Example sentences with "altar":
  • The ancient Britons used to sacrifice animals on elaborate stone altars. correct tick
  • We were married at the altar in Saint Paul's Cathedral. correct tick
  • Have you seen the water damage to the alter in Saint John's Church? wrong cross
  • (This should be "altar.")


"To alter" is a verb meaning to change something.

Example sentences with "alter":
  • Will you alter this dress for Saturday's play? correct tick
  • Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. correct tick (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • Please altar your claim in Section 9. wrong cross
  • (This should be "alter," i.e., to amend or change.)

Some Images for Altar and Alter

altar in church

eerie sacrificial altar

ladies alter clothes

Common Terms with "Altar" and "Alter"

Common terms with the word "altar":
  • altar boys
  • come to the altar
  • family altar
  • lead to the altar
  • wedding altar
  • witch's altar
Common terms with the word "alter":
  • alter course
  • alter ego
  • alter the dress
  • alter the situation

Most Mistakes Occur with "Altar" not "Alter"

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" wrong cross

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