There's a sense missing from the Webster 1913 list below, and it's a very common sense in the USA though not in the rest of the English-speaking world.

The word alternate whether adjective or verb basically means switching from one to the other and back again. (verb) A zebra's stripes alternate between black and white. (adjective) Alternate stripes are black and white.

Webster didn't mention the new sense so it must have developed in America since 1913. In American English, the adjective alternate is used to mean alternative, that is a choice. Here is one route to Boston, and here is an alternative route -- or in America, an alternate route.

This change of meaning is a bit surprising because it compresses two words into one. One of the meanings has been lost. How do you say that a zebra's stripes are alternately black and white?

The pronunciation is another minefield. My dictionaries give a choice including AL- as in Al Capone. But I've never heard this. The alternatives are short ol- as in holly and long awl- as in awl and all. Of course in America those are both the same "ahl" sound.

Then the stress. The verb is OL-ter-nayt, with initial stress and a full "nayt" vowel at the end. The adjective however is either OL-t'-n't to match that, or ol-TER-n't to match the adjective ol-TER-n't-iv.

Al*ter"nate [L. alternatus, p. p. of alternate, fr. alternus. See Altern, Alter.]


Being or succeeding by turns; one following the other in succession of time or place; by turns first one and then the other; hence, reciprocal.

And bid alternate passions fall and rise. Pope.


Designating the members in a series, which regularly intervene between the members of another series, as the odd or even numbers of the numerals; every other; every second; as, the alternate members 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. ; read every alternate line.

3. Bot.

Distributed, as leaves, singly at different heights of the stem, and at equal intervals as respects angular divergence.


Alternate alligation. See Alligation. -- Alternate angles Geom., the internal and angles made by two lines with a third, on opposite sides of it. It the parallels AB, CD, are cut by the line EF, the angles AGH, GHD, as also the angles BGH and GHC, are called alternate angles. -- Alternate generation. Biol. See under Generation.


© Webster 1913.



That which alternates with something else; vicissitude.


Grateful alternates of substantial. Prior.


A substitute; one designated to take the place of another, if necessary, in performing some duty.

3. Math.

A proportion derived from another proportion by interchanging the means.


© Webster 1913.

Al"ter*nate Alternating.] [L. alternatus, p. p. of alternare. See Altern.]

To perform by turns, or in succession; to cause to succeed by turns; to interchange regularly.

The most high God, in all things appertaining unto this life, for sundry wise ends alternates the disposition of good and evil. Grew.


© Webster 1913.

Al"ter*nate, v. i.


To happen, succeed, or act by turns; to follow reciprocally in place or time; -- followed by with; as, the flood and ebb tides alternate with each other.

Rage, shame, and grief alternate in his breast. J. Philips.

Different species alternating with each other. Kirwan.


To vary by turns; as, the land alternates between rocky hills and sandy plains.


© Webster 1913.

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