• 2-minute read
  • 28th October 2018

Word Choice: Alternately vs. Alternatively

‘Alternately’ and ‘alternatively’ look similar because both come from the Latin term alternatus. However, nowadays, these words have distinct meanings. It is therefore important not to mix them up in your writing. Check out our guide below for advice and examples of how they should be used.

Alternately (One After the Other)

‘Alternately’ is an adverb used when something switches back and forth between two things or states, or when two or more things take turns one after another. For example, we could use it in a sentence as follows:

The fever left me feeling alternately hot and cold.

Here, ‘alternately’ shows that the speaker felt hot and then cold, switching between the two. This makes ‘alternately’ similar to the verb ‘alternate’, which means ‘to switch repeatedly’.

If you look online, you will see that some US English dictionaries also list ‘alternately’ as a variant spelling of ‘alternatively’. However, this would be incorrect in Australian English.

Alternatively (Another Possibility)

‘Alternatively’ is also an adverb. We use this term to introduce a new option or possibility as an alternative to something that has already been proposed. For instance, we could say:

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You could sit here feeling unwell or, alternatively, go to see a doctor.

Importantly, rather than describing two things that replace one another in succession, ‘alternatively’ implies separate possibilities. It is therefore similar to saying ‘instead’ or ‘otherwise’.

Alternately or Alternatively?

To make sure you use the right term, keep the following in mind:

  • Alternately means to switch between things or states successively.
  • We use alternatively to introduce another option or possibility.

The key to getting this right is the situation at hand. If it involves two or more things or states replacing one another, the correct term will be ‘alternately’.

But if you are suggesting an alternative to something or some course of action, you will need the word ‘alternatively’. If you need help checking your writing is error free throughout, moreover, drop us a line today.

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