al·ter·na·tive (ôl-tûrnə-tĭv, ăl-)
a. One of a number of possible choices or courses of action: There are plenty of alternatives to conventional advertising.
b. A choice or course of action that is mutually exclusive with another: The alternative to staying in that dead-end job is to quit. See Synonyms at choice.
2. A situation presenting a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities: people facing the alternative of selling their homes or going bankrupt.
a. Being one of a number of possible choices or courses of action: The highway is closed. Seek alternative routes.
b. Being one of two mutually exclusive choices or courses of action: How effective is the alternative treatment?
c. Substitute or other: Several members of the audience provided alternative views on the topic.
a. Existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems: an alternative lifestyle; alternative energy.
b. Espousing or reflecting values that are different from those of the establishment or mainstream: an alternative newspaper.
Usage Note: A traditional view holds that alternative should be used only when the number of choices involved is exactly two. This reasoning is based on the word's historical relation to Latin alter, "the other of two." Even in the 1960s, some 58 percent of the Usage Panel did not favor this edict, and now that majority is overwhelming. In 2009, fully 87 percent of the Panel accepted the sentence There are plenty of alternatives to straightforward advertising, and 85 percent accepted There are many new antibiotic alternatives to penicillin. Constructions like a number of alternatives must now be considered standard. · As an adjective, alternative can mean "allowing or requiring a choice between two or more things," as in We wrote an alternative statement in case the first was rejected by the board. It may also refer to a variant or substitute in cases where no choice is involved, as in We will do our best to secure alternative employment for employees displaced by the closing of the factory. In our 2009 survey, 87 percent of the Usage Panel accepted this sentence. Interestingly, only 52 percent accepted alternate when used in the same sentence.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.