Posted by: episystechpubs | April 29, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Alternate vs. Alternative

Today we review a question I got back in February: What is the proper use of alternate vs. alternative? From Common Errors in English Usage, by Paul Brians:

Alternate and Alternative

Although UK authorities disapprove, in US usage, “alternate” is frequently an adjective, substituted for the older “alternative”: “an alternate route.” “Alternate” can also be a noun; a substitute delegate is, for instance, called an “alternate.” But when you’re speaking of “every other” as in “our club

And additional information from Merriam-Webster:


· adjective

: occurring or succeeding by turns : one following the other in time: not side by side <stems with alternate leaves>

Substitute for alternative <this highway is an alternate route> <copper may be used as an alternate material> <make an alternate selection>

· verb

: to perform by turns or in succession : interchange regularly <alternate the melodies>

· noun

: a choice between two or among more than two objects or courses : alternative <the port is the alternate to New York as a shipping terminus> <several basic alternates to expansion of the building>

: one that takes the place of another : one that alternates with another: such as an extra person appointed to take the place of another who is unable to perform a certain duty : substitute


· adjective

: offering a choice of two or more things : <several alternative plans> : expressing a choice or choices <alternative proposition>

: occurring or succeeding by turns : alternate <On alternative days, most stocks seem to be either wildly over-priced or tanking. — Linda Stern Newsweek 3 Apr. 2000>

: different from the usual or conventional: such as a : existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system <an alternative newspaper>

· noun

: a proposition or situation offering a choice between two things wherein if one thing is chosen the other is rejected <a government facing the alternative of high taxes or poor highways>

: one of a number of things or courses offered for choice <a third alternative>

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