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Commonly Confused Words: Alternate vs. Alternative


What does each word mean?

Alternate means ‘every other or every second’. As a verb, it describes the act of ‘taking turns’.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word and here for Spellzone vocabulary lists related to it.

Here is alternate used in some example sentences:

  • We Skype on alternate weekends.
  • They alternated between driving and giving directions.

In American English, alternate is also used to describe something that is presented as ‘another option’. For example:

  • Would it be possible to schedule our meeting at an alternate time?

In British English, however, this use of alternate is considered incorrect by many. The word alternative is used instead.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of alternative and here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to it.

Here is alternative used in some example sentences:

  • Would it be possible to schedule our meeting at an alternative time?
  • If you don’t enjoy swimming, the leisure centre offers a variety of alternative activities.
  • There must be an alternative solution to the problem.

Where does each word come from?

Both alternate and alternative derive from the Latin ‘alternare’ meaning ‘to first do one thing and then the other’. Both words have been used in English since the sixteenth century.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • Alternative has the word I’ve in it. Come up with a sentence using both words to help you remember the context in which to use it. For example: ‘I’ve come up with an alternative solution.’

  • Alternate rhymes with date. Come up with a sentence using both words to help you remember the context in which to use it. For example: We like to alternate between going on dinner dates and going on dates at the cinema.

Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.


08 Dec 2017
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