[ verb awl-ter-neyt, al-; adjective, noun awl-ter-nit, al- ]
See synonyms for: alternatealternatedalternatingalternately on

verb (used without object),al·ter·nat·ed, al·ter·nat·ing.
  1. to interchange repeatedly and regularly with one another in time or place; rotate (usually followed by with): Day alternates with night.

  2. to change back and forth between conditions, states, actions, etc.: He alternates between hope and despair.

  1. to take turns: My sister and I alternated in doing the dishes.

  2. Electricity. to reverse direction or sign periodically.

  3. Linguistics. to occur as a variant inalternation with another form.

verb (used with object),al·ter·nat·ed, al·ter·nat·ing.
  1. to perform or do in succession or one after another: to alternate comedy acts; to alternate jogging and walking.

  2. to interchange successively or regularly: to alternate hot and cold compresses.

  1. being in a constant state of succession or rotation; interchanged repeatedly one for another: Winter and summer are alternate seasons.

  2. reciprocal; mutual: alternate acts of kindness.

  1. every second one of a series: Read only the alternate lines.

  2. constituting an alternative: The alternate route is more scenic.

  3. Botany.

    • placed singly at different heights on the axis, on each side in succession, or at definite angular distances from one another, as leaves.

    • opposite to the intervals between other organs: petals alternate with sepals.

  1. a person authorized to fill the position, exercise the duties, etc., of another who is temporarily absent; substitute.

  2. Theater.

    • either of two actors who take turns playing the same role.

    • an understudy.

Origin of alternate

First recorded in 1505–15, alternate is from the Latin word alternātus (past participle of alternāre). See altern, -ate1

Other words from alternate

  • al·ter·nate·ly, adverb
  • al·ter·nate·ness, noun
  • al·ter·nat·ing·ly, adverb
  • non·al·ter·nat·ing, adjective
  • qua·si-al·ter·nat·ing, adjective
  • qua·si-al·ter·nat·ing·ly, adverb
  • un·al·ter·nat·ed, adjective
  • un·al·ter·nat·ing, adjective

Words that may be confused with alternate Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use alternate in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for alternate


  1. (often foll by with) to occur or cause to occur successively or by turns: day and night alternate

  2. (intr often foll by between) to swing repeatedly from one condition, action, etc, to another: he alternates between success and failure

  1. (tr) to interchange regularly or in succession

  2. (intr) (of an electric current, voltage, etc) to reverse direction or sign at regular intervals, usually sinusoidally, the instantaneous value varying continuously

  3. (intr often foll by for) theatre to understudy another actor or actress

  1. occurring by turns: alternate feelings of love and hate

  2. every other or second one of a series: he came to work on alternate days

  1. being a second or further choice; alternative: alternate director

  2. botany

    • (of leaves, flowers, etc) arranged singly at different heights on either side of the stem

    • (of parts of a flower) arranged opposite the spaces between other parts: Compare opposite (def. 4)

noun(ˈɔːltənɪt, ɔːlˈtɜːnɪt)
  1. US and Canadian a person who substitutes for another in his absence; stand-in

Origin of alternate

C16: from Latin alternāre to do one thing and then another, from alternus one after the other, from alter other

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for alternate


[ ôltər-nĭt ]

  1. Arranged singly at intervals on a stem or twig. Elms, birches, oaks, cherry trees, and hickory trees have alternate leaves. Compare opposite.

  2. Arranged regularly between other parts, as stamens between petals on a flower.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.