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[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.
affording a choice of two or more things, propositions, or courses of action.
(of two things, propositions, or courses) mutually exclusive so that if one is chosen the other must be rejected:
The alternative possibilities are neutrality and war.
employing or following nontraditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment:
an alternative newspaper; alternative lifestyles.
Logic. (of a proposition) asserting two or more choices, at least one of which is true.
Also, alternate (for defs 1–4, 6).
Origin of alternative
1580-90; alternate + -ive
Related forms
alternatively, adverb
alternativeness, alternativity, noun
quasi-alternative, adjective
quasi-alternatively, adverb
Can be confused
alternate, alternative.
1. option, selection. See choice. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for alternative
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She arose as she said this, so Carter had no other alternative than to follow her into the royal presence.

    Trusia Davis Brinton
  • In the absence of overtures there was no alternative but to march on Paris.

  • I really shrank from doing so, but there seemed no alternative.

    Uncanny Tales Mary Louisa Molesworth
  • An acceptance so direct left Clarence no alternative: his fate was decided.

  • There was no alternative for Mercy but to own the truth in plain words.

    The New Magdalen Wilkie Collins
British Dictionary definitions for alternative


a possibility of choice, esp between two things, courses of action, etc
either of such choices: we 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 (sense 3)
Derived Forms
alternatively, adverb
alternativeness, 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
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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
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