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Alternate or Alternative?

What Is the Difference between "Alternate" and "Alternative"?

homesitemapA-Z confused words alternate or alternative?
The Quick Answer

Alternate

(noun or adjective) "a replacement"
  • The road is closed. Can you find an alternate one? correct tick
  • (Note that the original road is not an option.)

Alternative

(noun or adjective) "another option"
  • The road is busy. Can you find an alternative one? correct tick
  • (Note that the original road is an option.)
alternate or alternative difference
"Alternate" and "alternative" are easy to confuse because their meanings are so similar. However, they are not interchangeable. An "alternate" is a replacement for the original, but an "alternative" is another option to the original. For example:
  • The helicopter is grounded. We need alternate transport. correct tick
  • (Note that the helicopter is no longer an option. The alternate replaces it.)
  • The helicopter is expensive. I suggest alternative transport. correct tick
  • (Note that the helicopter is still an option. The alternative is another option.)

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. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick
  • (In this example, "alternate" is a verb.)
  • We will take alternate shifts. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick
  • (In this example, "alternative" is an adjective. Note that the original route remains an option.)

A Video Summary

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

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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