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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 alternatives
  • Society, in dealing with the feminine spirit, has its choice of clearly defined alternatives.
  • Though perfume makers have found synthetic alternatives to musk, the hunting hasn't stopped.
  • They don't consider as wide a range of alternatives, and are more likely to jump to conclusions based on scanty evidence.
  • Minimize fertilizer and pesticide use on your lawn and garden or switch to organic, nontoxic alternatives.
  • Kellogg concocted healthy alternatives to vary the menu for patients.
  • Longer-term alternatives such as construction of a bridge or a ferry system were shelved.
  • Ask students to brainstorm alternatives to fighting when countries are in disagreement over who should control which territories.
  • The efforts highlight the quest to find low-cost alternatives to safely detect underground explosives.
  • Buses, trains, and taxis are good alternatives if you're not comfortable driving under these conditions.
  • Meanwhile, there may be alternatives in the offing that could soon compete with bubble curtains for dampening underwater sound.
British Dictionary definitions for alternatives


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 alternatives



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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