[awl-tur-nuh-tiv, al-]


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.


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

Synonyms for alternative

Synonym study

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

Examples from the Web for alternative

Contemporary Examples of alternative

Historical Examples of alternative

British Dictionary definitions for alternative



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

1580s, "offering one or the other of two," from Medieval Latin alternativus, from Latin alternatus, past participle of alternare (see alternate (v.)). Meaning "purporting to be a superior choice to what is in general use" was current by 1970 (earliest reference is to the media); e.g. alternative energy (1975). Related: Alternatively.


1620s, in rhetoric, from Medieval Latin alternativus (see alternative (adj.)). Of courses of action, from 1814. Of objects, etc., "the other of two which may be chosen," by 1838.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper