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.

(between two things), (of two)

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alternative 3 — is a television programme, broadcast once only in the United Kingdom in 1977, and later broadcast in New Zealand, as a fictional hoax, an heir to Orson Welles radio production of The War of the Worlds . Purporting to be an investigation into… …   Wikipedia

  • Alternative — Al*ter na*tive, n. [Cf. F. alternative, LL. alternativa.] 1. An offer of two things, one of which may be chosen, but not both; a choice between two things, so that if one is taken, the other must be left. [1913 Webster] There is something else… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Alternative — Al*ter na*tive, a. [Cf. F. alternatif.] 1. Offering a choice of two things. [1913 Webster] 2. Disjunctive; as, an alternative conjunction. [1913 Webster] 3. Alternate; reciprocal. [Obs.] Holland. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • alternative — I. adjective Date: 1540 1. alternate 1 2. offering or expressing a choice < several alternative plans > 3. different from the usual or conventional: as a. existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system < an… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Alternative TV — Infobox musical artist 2 Name = Alternative TV Img capt = Mark Perry in NYC 2003 Background = group or band Origin = London, England, United Kingdom Instruments = Genre = Punk rock Post punk Years active = 1976 ndash;1979,1981, 1985 ndash;1998… …   Wikipedia

  • ALTERNATIVE — s. f. L option entre deux propositions, entre deux choses. On lui a proposé ou de partir secrètement ou de se cacher ; il est embarrassé sur l alternative. Je vous offre l alternative. On lui a donné l alternative. Il n y a pas d alternative.  … …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

  • ALTERNATIVE — n. f. Succession de deux choses qui reviennent tour à tour. La vie est une alternative de peine et de plaisir. On combattit avec une alternative presque égale de succès et de revers. Il signifie par extension Option entre deux propositions, entre …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

  • alternative — See variant …   Military dictionary

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  • Alternative splicing — produces two protein isoforms. Alternative splicing (or differential splicing) is a process by which the exons of the RNA produced by transcription of a gene (a primary gene transcript or pre mRNA) are reconnected in multiple ways during RNA… …   Wikipedia

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