Wrong Word Wednesday #48

Every week I will demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the one intended. Sometimes this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence. Unfortunately, the mistake is usually so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television.

Altar / Alter

This is a fairly straightforward one but I have seen people confuse them often enough to think it warrants its own article. One is a noun and one is a verb; one is to do with religion, the other is not. Despite that they are pronounced identically, they are very different.

Altar – A table or a shrine in a place of worship that is the centrepiece of a religious ceremony or marriage.

Alter – To change something.

I have been thinking about how to remember the difference. Here’s what I came up with: You alter the vowel for alter. A bit rubbish, but the best I can do under the circumstances. Oh, and perhaps “A for absolution”?

8 thoughts on “Wrong Word Wednesday #48

  1. eclecticalli

    I am a.. “creative”.. speller, at best (which is why I know i need a good editor with a specific eye for spelling and grammar). And this one, I know, trips me up a bit!

      1. eclecticalli

        I’m enjoying seeing them! And I am sure there are a LOT. I actually enjoy the reminders of all the ways I misuse language… For some things, eventually, the reminders will pay off and I’ll keep it straight (I am embarrassed at how long it took me to get into my head that went is not “when with a “t” at the end”… getting rid of that H took a LOT of reminders).

  2. N. E. White

    I don’t ever get this one confused, but I’m sure as a typo, it has cropped up in my writing.

    Interestingly, they are pronounced slightly differently here in the states (or, at least, where I’m at…or maybe it is just me).

    1. That’s interesting, how differently?

      The only other one I can think of in British English where words are pronounced the same (but differently in American English) is miner and minor.

      1. N. E. White

        I say…hmmm, I have no idea how to represent the sounds, but essentially, when I say ‘alter’, the ‘ter’ is emphasized and similar to the ‘ter’ in ‘tern’ (or ‘turn’). Whereas with altar, I sort of drop or muffle the last bit. (shrugs)

      2. haha, I knew it. We pronounce them the same. Have you seen Galaxy Quest? Alan Rickman shouts it at Sam Rockwell “Miners not minors!” on the planet where they get the Barillium Sphere. But of course he pronounces them both the same way.

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