Difference Between Alternate and Alternative

Main Difference – Alternate vs Alternative

Alternate and Alternative are two words which have slightly different meanings in American English and British English. Since there are some variations in the meanings of these words, many people find them confusing. In this article, we hope to clear your confusions about these two words. The difference between alternate and alternative mainly exists in British English. In British English, the main difference between alternate and alternative is that alternate means every other or happening in turns whereas alternative means another possibility or choice.

Alternate – Meaning and Usage

The word alternate can be used as an adjective, noun and verb. There is a slight difference in meaning of this word regarding British English and American English. The adjective alternate commonly means ‘every other’ or ‘every second’ and the verb alternate means ‘to occur in turn repeatedly’ in both British and American English. For example,

He alternated between hope and despair.

They visit his parents on alternate Sundays.

I do not like to alternate work with education.

The cake had alternate layers of chocolate and custard.

She attended lectures on alternate days.

However, there is another meaning to this word in American English. Here, alternate is often used as a synonym for alternative. Thus, alternate can mean ‘available as another choice or possibility’. Terms like alternate route, alternate juror, etc. are common in American English. The noun alternate refers to a person who acts as a substitute.

They had to take an alternate route due to the traffic jam in Kinsley road.

An alternate plan has been chosen to avoid delay.

It is also important to note that some British English users consider this usage as incorrect. Furthermore, alternate in the above two sentences can also be replaced by alternative.

Difference Between Alternate and Alternative

Chess board has alternate black and white squares.

Alternative – Meaning and Usage

Alternative is an adjective and a noun and refers to ‘another possibility or choice.’ For example, think about a scenario where you are stuck in a traffic jam; you might decide to take another route. This new route can be considered as an alternative route since it is an option you chose because you couldn’t go with your first choice. The following sentences will help you further to understand the meaning of alternative.

We had to switch to an alternative plan.

They considered several sites as a possible alternative home for the abbey.

We have to look into an alternative power source.

Listening to audio books is an alternative to reading.

Alternative can also refer to activities or ideas that deviate from traditional and widely accepted norms.  Terms like alternative music and alternative lifestyle refer to this meaning of the word.

It is also important to note that alternative refers to a choice between two things according to some traditional grammarians; they consider that it is inaccurate to use alternative to situations where there are more than two choices. However, this ‘rule’ is not much respected in modern English; it is fairly common to use alternative when there are more than two choices.Main Difference - Alternate vs Alternative

Difference Between Alternate and Alternative

Grammatical Category

Alternate is a noun, adjective, and verb.

Alternative is a noun, and adjective.


Alternate refers to a person who acts a substitute. (In American English)

Alternative refers to two or more available possibilities or choices.


Alternate means every second or every other.

Alternative means another possibility or choice.


Alternate means occur in turn repeatedly.

Alternative is not a verb.

American English

Alternate is a synonym to alternative when it is used as an adjective.

Alternative is not much used as an adjective.Difference Between Alternate and Alternative - infographic

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