`alternate' vs. `alternative' - references (long)
(This is rather a side-issue, but here we go ...)
I went to the library and found a couple of style guides - one of
American usage, though rather old - and a couple of dictionaries of
The comments from `Modern American Usage' (1966, so not quite so
modern any more) are particularly informative.
Neither did the style guides condone nor the dictionaries mention the
use of `alternate' to mean `alternative'.
(An errors are mine.  indicate a comment by the author, not by me.
... indicates text I have omitted. `' usually indicate italics in the
original, and __ the use of heavy type.)
* The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words, 2nd Ed. (by Bill
Bryson; 1987, published by Viking in Harmondsworth (Middlesex), New
York, Ringwood (Victoria, Australia), Markham (Ontario) and Auckland):
Although the word derives from the Latin `alter', meaning `either of
two', almost all the authorities agree that a strict interpretation of
its meaning is needlessy pedantic and impractical. Patridge and `The
Economist Pocket Style Book' are pretty much alone in insisting that
three alternatives would be wrong.
`Alternative' and `alternate' are frequently confused, particularly in
their adverbial forms. `Alternate' means by turns: first one, then
the other. Day alternates with night. `Alternative' means offering a
choice. The most common misuse is seen here: `The journey may be made
by road or alternately by rail' (cited by Fowler). The writer meant
`alternatively' - though in fact the sentence would say no less
without it. `Alternative' is in any case better avoided when there is
no suggestion of a compulsion to choose. An army under attack has the
alternative of fighting or retreating, but it is loose to say that
someone has the alternative of making a journey by road or by rail
when he might well choose not to go at all.
* The Oxford Paperback American Dictionary (1986, published by the
Oxford University Press in Oxford and New York):
_alternate_ adj. (of things of two kinds) by turns, first the one and
then the other: `Tom and Harry do the work on ~ days, eg Tom on
Monday, Harry on Tuesday, Tom on Wednesday, etc.'
_alternate_ vt.,vi. ...
_alternative_ adj. (of two things) that may be had, used, etc in place
of something else: `There are ~ answers to your question.'
n. _1_ choice between two things: `You have the ~ of working hard and
succeeding or of not working and being unsuccessful.' _2_ one of more
than two possibilities.
* Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, International Edition (1962,
published by Funk and Wagnalls Compay in New York):
_alternate_ v.t. ...
adj. _1_ Existing, occurring, or following by turns; reciprocal. _2_
Referring or pertaining to every other (of a series). _3_ (Bot.) _a_
Placed singly at intervals on the stem, as leaves. _b_ Disposed at
intervals between parts, as stamens when opposite the spaces between
n. A substitute or second; espeically, one substituting for another in
the performance of a duty or the filling of a position; a second
_alternative_ adj. _1_ Affording a choice between two things. _2_ Of
or pertaining to alternation; implying or involving an alternative:
n. _1_ Something that may or must be instead of something else; a
choice between two things: used sometimes, loosely, of more than two.
_2_ One of the things to be chosen.
* Modern American Usage by Wilson Follett &c (1966, published by
Longmans in London and elsewhere):
The principal difficulties that beset these words come under two
heads: 1. The management of the noun `alternative'. 2. The tendency
to confusion between the adjectival and the adverbial uses of
`alternate(ly)' and `alternative(ly)'.
2. So far there is little room for serious trouble. Confusion begins
with the adjectives and adverbs, and it enters through a loophole
provided by an extension of meaning in alternate, adjective and verb.
In one of its standard meanings, affiliated with `alternation', this
word causes no blunders: `Elms and maples alternate on the south side
of Main Street' / `Mother dines with us on alternate Sundays' / `The
alternate angles are equal'. But in the United States `alternate'
happens long ago to have acquired currency as a noun meaning
`substitute', `second choice'. We appoint delegates to a convention
and also `alternates', who, if need be, can serve in their stead.
This use is easily transferred from persons to things. For example, a
book club chooses a book for the month and, for those who do not want
it, proposes an `alternate'. By this route `alternate' has arrived
at a function hardly distinguishable from that of `alternative'.
Unless good writers will make the effort at self-discipline, the
distinction between the two unrelated ideas will not be restored and
ambiguity will continue. A spokesman for the United States Army
writes to a correspondent: `Requests to use alternate [ie alternative]
test dates are also received from other groups and individuals for
various reasons'. Newspapers use the two words interchangeably:
`Guests can drift from the formal living room to the ... family room.
Alternately [Alternatively], the family room can be used as extra
space for food preparation' / `Scores of flights were ordered to
alternate [alternative] landing fields from Pennsylvaniato New
England.' One can even find a perverted `alternate' and an orthodox
`alternative' in the same context: `Another problem which will have to
be met if Africa's wildlife is not to go the way of the dinosaur, is
that of finding an alternate way of life for the tribes which do most
of the poaching.' And a few lines farther: `because he has no
alternative means of supporting himself and his family'.
`Alternate', meaning one empowered to act in the place of another, is
established and inescapable; but the overlapping with `alternative'
leads to confusion (in both meaning and construing) and is therefore
inexcusable: `The alternate modes of travel are by dog sled and
airplane'. Is traveling done first by one means and then by the
other, or must one be chosen instead of the other? `He asked that the
experiment be continued eight months, during which the buses would
have tried alternate routes'. This sentence about highway traffic
suggests an experimental shifting back and forth between routes, but
the context shows that the point is to try out a number of alternative
routes. As for construing, note that the sentence above in which
`flights were ordered to alternate ... fields' suggest the verb `to
`Alternative' in one of its standard denotations is nearly synonymous