[ awl-tur-nuh-tiv, al- ]
/ ɔlˈtɜr nə tɪv, æl- /


a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility: You have the alternative of riding or walking.
one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen: The alternative to riding is walking.
a possible or remaining course or choice: There was no alternative but to walk.


Nearby words

  1. alternating voltage,
  2. alternating-gradient focusing,
  3. alternation,
  4. alternation of generations,
  5. alternation of heart,
  6. alternative conjunction,
  7. alternative curriculum,
  8. alternative energy,
  9. alternative fuel,
  10. alternative history

Also alternate (for defs 1–4, 6).

Origin of alternative

First recorded in 1580–90; alternate + -ive

Related formsal·ter·na·tive·ly, adverbal·ter·na·tive·ness, al·ter·na·tiv·i·ty, nounqua·si-al·ter·na·tive, adjectivequa·si-al·ter·na·tive·ly, adverb

Can be confusedalternate alternative

Synonym study

1. See choice. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for alternative

British Dictionary definitions for alternative


/ (ɔːlˈtɜːnətɪv) /


a possibility of choice, esp between two things, courses of action, etc
either of such choiceswe took the alternative of walking


presenting a choice, esp between two possibilities only
(of two things) mutually exclusive
denoting a lifestyle, culture, art form, etc, regarded by its adherents as preferable to that of contemporary society because it is less conventional, materialistic, or institutionalized, and, often, more in harmony with nature
logic another word for disjunctive (def. 3)
Derived Formsalternatively, adverbalternativeness, noun

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

Word Origin and History for alternative
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper