alternate, alternative
1. Both words are adjectives and nouns and come from Latin alternus meaning ‘every second’ and have had closely related meanings over several centuries of usage. Now however, there is a clear distinction which needs to be observed. Alternate as an adjective means ‘(of two things) each following and followed by the other’, as in alternate days. Alternative means ‘available or usable instead of another’, as in an alternative solution to the problem. In other words, an alternative thing replaces something else, whereas an alternate thing exists as well as something else. In current AmE, alternate, with stress on the first syllable, has usurped the territory of alternative in its ordinary meaning

• (I would have no fear about being able to make a safe landing at an alternate airport —USA Today, 2004).

2. Since the late 1960s the adjective has increasingly been used to mean ‘purporting or claiming to represent an acceptable or preferable alternative to that in traditional use’, as in alternative medicine (mainly homoeopathic or holistic), alternative energy (non-nuclear and not using fossil fuels), alternative fuel (and alternative-fuel vehicles, AFVs), alternative birthing (avoiding artificial methods), alternative society (rejecting traditional values), alternative technology (conserving resources), alternative theatre (using non-traditional techniques).
3. Alternative as a noun means something that is available or usable instead of something else. The traditional view that an alternative must be one of two possibilities, because the source word, Latin alter, means ‘other of two’ is not sustainable, and alternative has been regularly used since the mid-19c with reference to any number of possibilities

• (The aim of counselling is to open up the personal world of experience in which the person feels ‘stuck’ so that he or she may find alternative ways of coping with the world of events which confronts him or her —Counselling, 1983

• Write to everyone who is providing you with goods or services confirming the details some weeks before the wedding so that you have time to make alternative arrangements if you have to —York Evening Press, 2004).

The traditional use is still found, and lies at the heart of the word, most often as the alternative

• (The alternative of ‘public limited company’ is the abbreviation ‘p.l.c.’ —Companies Act, 1980).

4. Alternate as a noun is much less common. In AmE it is often used with the meaning ‘an alternative’, a reserve (player), a variant

• (I was fourth alternate in the Miss Teenage South Carolina pageant —William Boyd, 1984

• The twelve jurors and six alternates in Room 318 of the United States Courthouse —New Yorker, 1986).

In BrE this meaning is not found, although it is related to one that was in use in the 18c.
5. Alternate is also a verb (pronounced -neit in the final syllable), meaning ‘(of two or more things) to succeed one another in turns’:

• In a democratic system political parties expect to alternate in office —P. Richards, 1988.

Modern English usage. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alternate — Al*ter nate (?; 277), a. [L. alternatus, p. p. of alternate, fr. alternus. See {Altern}, {Alter}.] 1. Being or succeeding by turns; one following the other in succession of time or place; by turns first one and then the other; hence, reciprocal.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • alternate — al·ter·nate 1 / ȯl tər nət, al / adj 1: occurring or succeeding by turns 2: being an alternative alternate juror alternate 2 n 1 …   Law dictionary

  • ALTERNATE — ist englisch für: Alternative siehe Alternative (Begriffsklärung) alternierend siehe Alternanz der regelmäßige Wechsel zwischen zwei Zuständen Das Unternehmen Alternate Computerversand GmbH. In der Luftfahrt gebräuchliche Bezeichnung für… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • alternate — [adj1] every other alternating, every second, intermittent, periodic, recurrent, recurring, rotating; concept 553 alternate [adj2] substitute alternative, another, backup, different, interchanging, makeshift, second, surrogate, temporary; concept …   New thesaurus

  • alternate — [ôl′tər nit, al′tər nit; ] for v. [ ôl′tər nāt΄, al′tər nāt΄] adj. [L alternatus, pp. of alternare, to do by turns < alternus, one after the other < alter, other: see ALTER] 1. occurring by turns; succeeding each other; one and then the… …   English World dictionary

  • Alternate — Al ter*nate, v. i. 1. To happen, succeed, or act by turns; to follow reciprocally in place or time; followed by with; as, the flood and ebb tides alternate with each other. [1913 Webster] Rage, shame, and grief alternate in his breast. J. Philips …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Alternate — steht für: ein Unternehmen, siehe Alternate (Unternehmen) in der Luftfahrt gebräuchliche Bezeichnung für Alternate Airport, siehe Ausweichflugplatz Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrerer mit …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • alternate — adj *intermittent, recurrent, periodic Analogous words: alternating, rotating (see ROTATE): *reciprocal, corresponding, complementary Antonyms: consecutive Contrasted words: successive, sequent (see CONSECUTIVE) alternate vb * …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • alternate — ► VERB 1) occur or do in turn repeatedly. 2) change repeatedly between two contrasting conditions. ► ADJECTIVE 1) every other. 2) (of two things) each following and succeeded by the other in a regular pattern. 3) chiefly N. Amer. another term for …   English terms dictionary

  • alternate — UK US /ˈɒltənət/ noun [C] US ► WORKPLACE a person who does another person s job when they are ill or away: »He was dismissed and replaced with an alternate …   Financial and business terms

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