"Alternate" Or "Alternative"?

In both British and American English the adjective alternate means ‘every other or every second’, as in:

They meet on alternate Sundays.

or ‘(of two things) each following and succeeded by the other in a regular pattern’, as in:

Alternate layers of potato and sauce.

Alternative means ‘available as another possibility or choice’, as in:

Some European countries follow an alternative approach.

In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’, for example:

An alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring.

This American use of alternate is still regarded as incorrect by many people in Britain.


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