• 3-minute read
  • 20th July 2015

Word Choice: Adapt vs. Adopt

One vowel can make a big difference sometimes. Take ‘adapt’ and ‘adopt’, for instance: these words are separated in spelling by one letter and sound similar when spoken, yet they diverge entirely in their meaning.

This can be confusing, especially if English isn’t your first language. As such, you need to familiarise yourself with these words so that you can avoid errors in your written work, especially in educational and professional settings.

Adapt (Change)

The word ‘adapt’ is a verb meaning ‘change’ or ‘modify’. More specifically, it means to change something so that it’s suitable for a specific situation or purpose.

This can apply to either a thing:

Lachlan decided he’d adapt his world-famous muffin recipe to make it gluten free.

Or a person:

Emily had not been prepared for such an aggressive interview, but she adapted admirably.

Whatever the context, the key thing to remember is that ‘to adapt’ means ‘to change’. At the Oscars, for example, the Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is given to a film which has been modified from another source (such as a novel or TV show).

Adopt (Appropriate)

The term ‘adopt’ is also a verb, though in this case means ‘choose’ or ‘make one’s own’. Probably the most widely recognised sense of ‘adopt’ is to take on parental responsibilities for another person’s child:

She’d been orphaned at the age of three, but Olivia’s adoptive parents had always been kind.

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More generally, the word ‘adopt’ means to choose or accept something as one’s own:

After years of being ignored, Mr Nutkins decided to adopt a new nickname: Terry the Crusher.

One might also talk of ‘adopting’ a particular approach to solving a problem or a certain point of view.

And Adept (i.e. Skilled)…

Another similarly spelled word is ‘adept’. This means ‘skilled’ and is typically used an as adjective (so someone who is good at juggling, for example, is ‘an adept juggler’). Generally, you’ll see this term less often than ‘adapt’ or ‘adopt’, but it’s still worth remembering just in case.

Adapt, Adopt or Adept?

Since these words differ significantly in their application, it should be fairly easy to remember which is which. The only tricky bit is picking the right spelling! Try to focus on remembering the vowels in each word:

Adapt (with an ‘a’) = Change

Adopt (with an ‘o’) = Appropriate something

Adept (with an ‘e’) = Skilled

We know it isn’t always easy to spot these little errors though, so it never hurts to have the professionals at Proofed check your written work, too. Send in a 500-word sample today and we’ll proofread it for free.

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