Alternate/alternative

TerryWang

Senior Member
Taiwan
Hello,

Could anyone tell me about the difference between the two words as adjectives. Do they share the same meaning in part? Such as:

You can choose an alternate/alternative route.

Thank you.:)
 
  • tievoli

    Senior Member
    P.R.China
    In the sentence you used, the two words are equal to each other, both describe something that can be used, had, or done instead of something else. And alternate has another meaning, i.e. every other, or is used to describe actions, events, or processes regularly occur after each other.
     

    Mister Micawber

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    .
    Alternate, strictly speaking, refers to the sequential, repeated use of two options.

    Alternative refers to one of several choices.

    Having said that, they are often confused-- as on U.S. highway signs.
    .
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    .
    Alternate, strictly speaking, refers to the sequential, repeated use of two options.

    Alternative refers to one of several choices.

    Having said that, they are often confused-- as on U.S. highway signs.
    .
    If by "strictly speaking," you mean, "what the word meant originally," then you must also limit alternative to two choices. As late as 1895, when the Century Dictionary was printed, it made no mention of the possibility that any more than two choices might be involved. (The 1913 Webster's Unabridged mentions the possibility of a choice among several things.)

    But to go by such a "strictly speaking" definition is to commit the etymological fallacy. A word's actual meaning depends solely upon usage, and in current standard usage there is an overlap in the meanings of alternate and alternative.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My impression is that the merging of "alternate" and "alternative" has gone further in AE than in BE. I am not an expert in AE, but it all seems to have started in the 1990s, at the time of "alternative rock". Could it be that "alternative" is now confined to music?
     

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    There is also: alternative health care, alternative life-styles, alternative living conditions

    In these senses, alternative suggests 'non-traditional' or 'non-normal'

    Orange Blossom
     

    jiamajia

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    You can choose an alternate route.--------------

    I guess British people pronounce the word ''alternate'' in the given context with a stress on the second syllable.
    Do Americans say it differently, for example, with a stress on the first syllable like the verb?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You can choose an alternate route.--------------

    I guess British people pronounce the word ''alternate'' in the given context with a stress on the second syllable.
    Do Americans say it differently, for example, with a stress on the first syllable like the verb?
    A BrE speaker would use the word "alternative" in that sentence - the use of alternate in that context is particularly AmE.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    You can choose an alternate route.--------------

    I guess British people pronounce the word ''alternate'' in the given context with a stress on the second syllable.
    Do Americans say it differently, for example, with a stress on the first syllable like the verb?
    Adjective: ALL-ter-net (the last vowel really being a schwa, not an e)
    Verb: ALL-ter-nate
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    A BrE speaker would use alternate as an adjective with the specific meaning "every other". A possible example "I go shopping on alternate Saturdays" (meaning "I go shopping on th 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th etc Saturday of the year). That would be all-TUR-net (the e is a schwa).
     

    jiamajia

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    A BrE speaker would use alternate as an adjective with the specific meaning "every other". A possible example "I go shopping on alternate Saturdays" (meaning "I go shopping on th 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th etc Saturday of the year). That would be all-TUR-net (the e is a schwa).
    I learned this word first from the Communist Party hierarchy in which they have a post called ''alternate member of the poliburo'', which means he is a priority choice to be a full member if there is a vacancy in the poliburo. I guess the term ''alternative member'' would also work.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The dictionary at WRF has this entry which seems to match that meaning, and identifies it as US Canadian. That might be the source of the translation from the Russian for those people

    n /ˈɔːltənɪt; ɔːlˈtɜːnɪt/
    • US Canadian : a person who substitutes for another in his absence; stand-in
     

    sinkya

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Are these both sound natural?

    "Is there an alternate/alternative route?" to ask if there is another road I can take to get to my destination?

    If there is a better way to say this, please let me know.

    Thank you.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    ​Moderator note: sinkya's thread has been merged with another thread which asks the same question. Please scroll up.
     
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