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Difference Between Alternate and Alternative

Alternate vs Alternative

Alternate and Alternative are two words that are often used alike and are thought interchangeable. Strictly they are not interchangeable at all. There is great difference between the usages of the two words.

The word ‘alternate’ is used in the sense of ‘every other’ or ‘every second one’. On the other hand the word ‘alternative’ is used in the sense of ‘choice’. This is one of the main differences between the two words.

Alternative refers to either of two things offered to the choice of a person. Thus when two things are offered to a person as two choices then they are otherwise called alternatives.

It is interesting to note that a choice between more than two things or one of the several things offered to one to choose among is also called an alternative. Hence in short it can be said that an alternative refers directly to the ultimate choice of the person.

On the other hand the word ‘alternate’ has nothing to do with choice. It has every thing do with position. Some of the best examples of alternate positions are ‘odd numbers in the numerals’, ‘even number in the numerals’, ‘every other day in a week’ and the like.

Observe these sentences for example:

1. He teaches mathematics on alternate days.

2. He goes to piano class on alternate days.

In both sentences given above the word ‘alternate’ refers to ‘every other’ or ‘every second one’. On the other hand the word ‘alternative’ has nothing to do with ‘every other’ or ‘every second one’.

Look at the sentences given below:

1. He was given an alternative.

2. He made a good use of the alternatives provided to him.

In the sentences given above the word ‘alternative’ is used to convey the sense of ‘choice’. In the first sentence it is understood that someone was given a choice between two objects. In the second sentence it is understood that someone was given a choice to choose between more than two objects or things from different groups for that matter.

The word ‘alternative’ is always reciprocal in purpose. On the other hand the word ‘alternative’ is disjunctive in character. It is in fact the course of action or the thing offered in place of another. On the contrary the word ‘alternate’ gives the sense of succeeding by turns or one following the other in succession of time or place.


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