On a checkerboard, black squares alternate with white ones. As a verb, alternate means to do something in turns. As a noun, an alternate is a replacement.

While the noun and verb seem not to mean the same thing, think of it this way: If you are brought on in a game to be someone's alternate, you are there to take their turn. Alternate can also be used as an adjective, meaning different or other. An alternate view of history is one that looks at the past from an uncommon perspective. Pay attention to the pronunciation of alternate: as a verb the end is pronounced "-nāt" and as a noun or adjective "-nət."

Definitions of alternate
  1. verb
    go back and forth; swing back and forth between two states or conditions
    synonyms: jump
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    type of:
    alter, change, vary
    become different in some particular way, without permanently losing one's or its former characteristics or essence
  2. verb
    reverse (a direction, attitude, or course of action)
    synonyms: flip, flip-flop, interchange, switch, tack
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    type of:
    change by reversal, reverse, turn
    change to the contrary
  3. verb
    do something in turns
    synonyms: take turns
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    take turns working
    type of:
    act, move
    perform an action, or work out or perform (an action)
  4. verb
    exchange people temporarily to fulfill certain jobs and functions
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    exchange on a regular basis
    type of:
    hand over one and receive another, approximately equivalent
  5. verb
    be an understudy or alternate for a role
    synonyms: understudy
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    type of:
    con, learn, memorise, memorize
    commit to memory; learn by heart
  6. noun
    someone who takes the place of another person
    synonyms: replacement, surrogate
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    type of:
    backup, backup man, fill-in, relief, reliever, stand-in, substitute
    someone who takes the place of another (as when things get dangerous or difficult)
  7. adjective
    occurring by turns; first one and then the other
    alternating feelings of love and hate”
    synonyms: alternating
    cyclic, cyclical
    recurring in cycles
  8. adjective
    serving or used in place of another
    synonyms: alternative, substitute
    being of second rank or importance or value; not direct or immediate
  9. adjective
    every second one of a series
    “the cleaning lady comes on alternate Wednesdays”
    cyclic, cyclical
    recurring in cycles
  10. adjective
    of leaves and branches etc; first on one side and then on the other in two ranks along an axis; not paired
    “stems with alternate leaves”
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    opposite, paired
    of leaves etc; growing in pairs on either side of a stem
Commonly confused words

alternate / alternative

To alternate is to take turns; an alternative is an option. When you wear your checkered blazer, the black and white squares alternate. But if you’re not feeling like an ’80s guitar hero, the green plaid jacket is a nice alternative.

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