Alternate and Alternative
The Quick AnswerWhat is the difference between alternate and alternative?
An alternate is a replacement for the original. An alternative is another option to the original. For example:
- The car is broken. We need alternate transport. (Note that the car is no longer an option. The alternate replaces it.)
- The car is quite expensive. I suggest alternative transport. (Note that the car is still an option. The alternative is just another option.)
Alternate and AlternativeWriters are often confused by the words alternate and alternative. These words have similar meanings, but there is a difference. They cannot be used interchangeably.
AlternateThe word alternate denotes a replacement (i.e., something that serves in the place of something else). In this meaning, it can be used as a noun or an adjective. For example:
- Our usual captain is on leave. Simon is the alternate. (In this example, alternate is a noun. Note that Simon is a replacement for the usual captain.)
- The landslide has closed the road. You must take an alternate route. (In this example, alternate is an adjective. Note that the original route is no longer an option, meaning the alternate route is a replacement route.)
- The lights alternate between red and white. (In this example, alternate is a verb.)
- We will take alternate shifts. (In this example, alternate is an adjective.)
AlternativeThe word alternative denotes another option (i.e., it does not replace the original). It can be used as a noun or an adjective. For example:
- Our usual captain is demanding twice as much money than expected. Simon is the alternative. (In this example, alternative is a noun. Note that Simon is another option for the usual captain, who remains an option. This is the difference between alternative and alternate.)
- The landslide has closed one lane of the road. I would advise taking an alternative route. (In this example, alternative is an adjective. Note that the original route remains an option.)
Interactive ExerciseHere are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.
See Alsoadverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are nouns? What are adjectives? What are verbs? List of easily confused words