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Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for “alternate” in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)


From Latin alternō (take turns), from alternus (one after another, by turns), from alter (other) + -rnus. See altern, alter.


Adjective, noun
  • (UK) IPA(key): /ɒl.ˈtɜː(ɹ).nət/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈɔl.tɚ.nət/, /ˈɑl.tɚ.nət/
  • (file)
  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈɒl.tə(ɹ).ˌneɪt/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈɔl.tɚ.neɪt/, /ˈɑl.tɚ.neɪt/
  • (file)


alternate (not comparable)

  1. Happening by turns; one following the other in succession of time or place; first one and then the other (repeatedly)
    Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique.
    • 1709, [Alexander Pope], An Essay on Criticism, London: [] W. Lewis [], published 1711, OCLC 15810849:
      And bid alternate passions fall and rise
    • 1960 September, “Talking of Trains: Newcastle signal area enlarged”, in Trains Illustrated, page 522:
      One of the two boxes displaced by the new Pelaw installation will be Springwell, between Boldon Colliery and Pelaw, which has recently had the distinction of being manned by a husband and wife on alternate shifts.
    • 2021 December 15, Robin Leleux, “Awards honour the best restoration projects: The Arch Company Award for Urban Heritage: Knaresborough”, in RAIL, number 946, page 56:
      The service is half-hourly as far as Harrogate and Knaresborough, with alternate trains going on to York.
  2. (mathematics) 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.
    the alternate members 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.
  3. (US) Other; alternative.
    Hyperlinked text is displayed in alternate color in a Web browser.
    He lives in an alternate universe and an alternate reality.
  4. (botany, of leaves) Distributed singly at different heights of the stem, and at equal intervals as respects angular divergence[1]
    Many trees have alternate leaf arrangement (e.g. birch, oak and mulberry).

Usage notes[edit]

  • In British English this adjective means, according to OED and other sources, one after the other or similar. It does not mean the same as alternative, which OED specifically marks as an American meaning of alternate. In international English it is thus thought better to observe the British distinction: then the meanings of alternative and alternate will be clear to everyone.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



alternate (plural alternates)

  1. That which alternates with something else; vicissitude.
    • 1718, Mat[thew] Prior, “Solomon on the Vanity of the World. A Poem in Three Books.”, in Poems on Several Occasions, London: [] Jacob Tonson [], and John Barber [], OCLC 5634253, (please specify the page):
      Grateful alternates of substantial peace.
  2. (US) A substitute; an alternative; one designated to take the place of another, if necessary, in performing some duty.
  3. (mathematics) A proportion derived from another proportion by interchanging the means.
  4. (US) A replacement of equal or greater value or function.
  5. (heraldry) Figures or tinctures that succeed each other by turns.



alternate (third-person singular simple present alternates, present participle alternating, simple past and past participle alternated)

  1. (transitive) To perform by turns, or in succession; to cause to succeed by turns; to interchange regularly.
    • 1701, Nehemiah Grew, Cosmologia Sacra:
      The most high God, in all things appertaining unto this life, for sundry wise ends alternates the disposition of good and evil.
  2. (intransitive) To happen, succeed, or act by turns; to follow reciprocally in place or time; followed by with.
    The flood and ebb tides alternate with each other.
  3. (intransitive) To vary by turns.
    The land alternates between rocky hills and sandy plains.
  4. (transitive, geometry) To perform an alternation (removal of alternate vertices) on (a polytope or tessellation); to remove vertices (from a face or edge) as part of an alternation.
    • 1932, Harold Scott Macdonald Coxeter, The densities of the regular polytopes, part 2[1], reprinted in 1995, F. Arthur Sherk, Peter Mcmullen, Anthony C. Thompson, Asia Ivić Weiss (editors), Kaleidoscopes: Selected Writings of H. S. M. Coxeter, page 54:
      This case suggests that the alternation of a polyhedron should be bounded by actual vertex figures and alternated faces. The case of the cube is in agreement with this notion, since the alternated square is nothing.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ 1857, Asa Gray, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology


Etymology 1[edit]



  1. inflection of alternare:
    1. second-person plural present indicative
    2. second-person plural imperative

Etymology 2[edit]


alternate f pl

  1. feminine plural of alternato


alternate f

  1. feminine plural of alternato





  1. second-person plural present active imperative of alternō