alternate years

cielbleu92

Member
Korean
Hello,

"To pray for rain, either the snake dance or the flute dance is performed in alternate years in August."

I thought I understood the above sentence as follows;
If the snake dance is performed this year, the flute dance will be performed next year. Then, the snake dance will be performed after that.

However, all of a sudden, it occurred to me that it might mean that any dance out of those two is performed this year, and then next year no dance, and then year after the next year, any dance will be performed.

What do you think? Is my original understanding of this sentence right?
Thank you in advance.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    You're right, the sentence is ambiguous. The natural reading is your first one, but that comes from real-world knowledge. The grammar and the word 'alternate' allow both possibilities.
     

    cielbleu92

    Member
    Korean
    Thank you very much.
    I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who find the sentence ambiguous. So I guess I can stick to my original understanding.
     

    NewAmerica

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    You're right, the sentence is ambiguous. The natural reading is your first one, but that comes from real-world knowledge. The grammar and the word 'alternate' allow both possibilities.
    In the following context, what situation is suitable for "alternative years"? For example, give awards on 2010, 2012, 2014 (in 2011, 2013, 2015 no awards available)? If so, why not simply say "give awards every two years"?

    *********************

    One of the world’s richest science awards, given only in alternate years, will go to three discoverers of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing tool, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced on Thursday.

    -By Sharon Begley, STAT
    -Scientific American

    Source
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The meaning is as you describe. "Alternate" is a perfectly good word in this context and has no need of simplification. The writer could have said "given only every other year" or "given only every second year", but they didn't. What sentence had you in mind for "every two years"? I cannot think of a way of including this phrase that isn't more awkward than the original, particularly if you want to keep "only" for emphasis.

    The ambiguity in the sentence in post #1 does not exist in your sentence. Personally, I don't think the post #1 sentence is ambiguous; it carries the second meaning, and the writer (who presumably meant the first meaning) made a mistake by including the word "either".
     

    NewAmerica

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Looks like that I've misunderstood the meaning of "given every two years." What does it mean? In my mind it was exactly what you've said ("given only every other year" or "given only every second year").

    Thank you. :)
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Looks like that I've misunderstood the meaning of "given every two years." What does it mean? In my mind it was exactly what you've said ("given only every other year" or "given only every second year").

    Thank you. :)
    It does mean that, but why use several words when the word “alternate” is available? It certainly wouldn’t be an improvement to make that change in your text.
     
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