Alternate or Alternative?

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Alternate or Alternative?

What is the difference between "alternate" and "alternative"?
  • Alternate. An "alternate" is a replacement for the original. For example:
    • The helicopter is grounded. We need alternate transport.
    • (Note that the helicopter is no longer an option. The alternate replaces it.)
  • Alternative. An "alternative" is another option to the original. For example:
    • The helicopter is expensive. I suggest alternative transport.
    • (Note that the helicopter is still an option. The alternative is another option.)

    A Video Summary

    Here is a 1-minute video summarizing this lesson on "alternate" and "alternative."

    alternate or alternative difference

    More about "Alternate" and "Alternative"

    Writers are often confused by the words "alternate" and "alternative." These words have similar meanings, but there is a difference. They cannot be used interchangeably.

    Alternate

    The word "alternate" means 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 word "alternate" can also meaning "taking turns." In this meaning, it can be used as a verb or an adjective. For example:
    • 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.)

    Alternative

    The word "alternative" means 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 Exercise
    Here 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 Also

adverse 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