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Alternate vs Alternative


  • ‘Alternate’ (adj) means ‘every other’ (e.g. alternate days) or ‘each thing following or succeeded by the other in a regular pattern’.
  • ‘Alternative’ (adj) means ‘available as another possibility or choice’ or ‘different from traditional norms’.

What’s the difference between ‘alternate’ and ‘alternative’?

As only their suffix differs, it can be easy to confuse these words. But they do mean different things, as defined above.

  • What makes these words more challenging is that ‘alternate’ also works as a verb (meaning ‘follow something else in a regular pattern’) and a noun (meaning ‘substitute’).
  • ‘Alternative’ also works as a noun, meaning ‘the other possibility or choice’.
  • Some people argue that the words can be used interchangeably in US English. But for the sake of clarity, it might be better to stick to the above distinction.

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How they’re used

Example sentences with ‘alternate’

  • The tool selects alternate bidirectional paths at one time.
  • We tested the occurrence of alternate bars in three model runs.

Example sentences with ‘alternative’

  • The use of alternative medical therapies has become widespread.
  • We provide an analysis of alternative approaches to evaluation.