MG Mason

Wrong Word Wednesday #68


Every week I demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the word intended. Usually, this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence and sometimes it sounds amusing, other times it sounds embarrassing. Unfortunately, the mistake is 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.

Alternate(ly) / Alternative(ly)

This is one of those I feel that people use the wrong one because to sound posh (a bit like infer / imply). They are similar but should be used in different contexts. The best analogy for this is road routes when travelling.

Alternate – is an option that is used to replace something you did or used before. “Due to a landslip, the coast road is closed. Please use alternate inland route”.

Alternative – is a second option to a regular choice where the first has not been removed as an option. “Due to an accident this morning, the coast road is experiencing severe congestion. Drivers are recommended to take the inland route as an alternative”.

In the first instance, the coast road is no longer an option because it is blocked – you must take the alternate route. In the second, you may still take the coast road, but understand you will experience delays so you may wish to try the alternative route.