Alternately vs Alternatively

What is the difference?

The words alternately and alternatively are easy to confuse. Both of these words are long. And they are very similar. But they do not sound the same, and they do not mean the same thing. It is important that you do not confuse these words.

Alternately Vs. Alternatively

How can you avoid confusing these two words? This lesson will help you learn when you should use alternately and when you should use alternatively. Do not use one when you should be using the other.

Let's look at some examples to help you learn the distinction.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses


Alternately is an adverb. That means that it modifies (limits or describes) a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

"Alternately" means that two things follow after each other, first one and then the other, in a regular pattern.


Alternately is related to the word alternate(with first one thing, then another thing, and then the first thing again, and so forth). For example, if something happens on alternate days, it happens on one day, does not happen on the next, and then happens again on the following day, etc.


  1. Mary was alternately happy and sad.
    (First Mary was happy, then she was sad, then she was happy again.)

    Happy and Sad
  2. She handed out the dollar bills alternately to her children.
    (She handed one child a dollar, then the other child a dollar, and so on.)

    Handing Money
  3. The bike alternately turned as Jim practiced riding it.
    (The bike turned left, then right, then left, and so on.)

    Riding a Bike
  4. She alternately seemed confident and shy.
    (First she seemed confident, then she seemed shy, and so on.)

    Shy Girl
  5. The stripes are alternately black and yellow.
    (The stripes are in a regular pattern: one black, one yellow, one black, one yellow, etc.)

    Striped Bee


Alternatively is also an adverb. But is has a different meaning than "alternately." Alternatively is used when another option is presented.


  1. I want chocolate ice cream. Alternatively, I would eat strawberry.
    (I prefer chocolate, but if it is not available, I will eat strawberry ice cream.)

    Ice Cream
  2. Sheila will arrange a flight for you. Alternatively, she can hire a rental car.
    (The plan is for Sheila to buy an airline ticket for you, but if you don't want to fly, she will get a car for you to drive.)

  3. It's easiest to order online; alternatively, you can call the company.
    (Most people order online because it is quicker, but you can also call in to make your order.)

    Order Online
  4. We hope to sell our house this week. Alternatively, we can stay here another month.
    (We want the house to sell now, but another option is to stay in it longer.)

    For sale
  5. Please clear your own plates. Alternatively, I will clear them for you.
    (I want you to put the plates in the sink, but if you don't do it, I will.)

    Clearing Plates

A Story to Practice
Alternately vs. Alternatively

Nathan and Simon are going to the movies. Nathan says, "I want to see the new super hero movie. Alternatively, I would like to see a horror movie."
Simon reads the sign, alternately looking at the show times and the titles of the movies.

He says, "In this first theater, they show the super hero movie and the horror movie alternately. Because the super hero movie just started, we have to wait two hours for the horror movie. We have to wait four hours for the super hero movie. Alternatively, we can go do something else instead."

Nathan says, "I am hungry. Let's find something to eat and see the movie later."

Simon replies, "OK. I want to eat pizza. Alternatively, I would eat pasta."
Nathan says, "Neither of those sounds good to me. I want hamburgers. Alternatively, I want to eat fried chicken."

Simon thinks for a minute and then says, "Let's flip a coin to decide what to eat. Alternatively, we could arm wrestle."

Nathan pulls a coin out of his pocket and alternately looks at the front and the back of it. He says, "Heads!" and flips the coin. He wins, and they go buy some hamburgers.



Answer the following 10 questions and then check your answers. Each question is worth 10 points.

Part 1:

  1. Which of the following is a correct definition of alternately?
    1. when two things follow each other in a regular way
    2. when another option is presented
    3. when two things crash into each other
    4. when there is only one option

  2. Which of the following is a correct definition of alternatively?
    1. when two things crash into each other
    2. when two things follow each other in a regular way
    3. when there is only one option
    4. when another option is presented

  3. Which sentence is written correctly?
    1. The seats are alternately blue and green.
    2. The seats are alternatively blue and green.
    3. I prefer to take the bus. Alternately, I could walk.
    4. Jose and Jeff shared the fries alternatively.

  4. Which of the following is written incorrectly?
    1. He wants to play soccer. Alternatively, he would play basketball.
    2. Traffic moves faster when cars enter the freeway alternately.
    3. Traffic moves faster when cars enter the freeway alternatively.
    4. He works alternately at the store and at the office.

Part 2:

  1. Please place the books ____________ between the seats.
    1. alternatively
    2. decidedly
    3. confusingly
    4. alternately

  2. He wants mustard.  ____________, he will take ketchup.
    1. Alternately
    2. Alternatively
    3. Back-and-forth
    4. Alphabetically

  3. There are two lines. People should enter ____________ so it will move more quickly.
    1. alternatively
    2. alternately
    3. amazingly
    4. alternating

  4. You can clean your room. ____________, you can clean the kitchen.
    1. Alternatingly
    2. Alternately
    3. Alternatively
    4. Alternative

  5. He was ____________ hot and cold because he had a fever.
    1. alternative
    2. alternating
    3. alternatively
    4. alternately

  6. We can play a game or, ____________, we could watch TV.
    1. alternatives
    2. alternately
    3. alternatingly
    4. alternatively

Answer Key

Part 1: 1. A | 2. D | 3. A | 4.C

Part 2: 1. D | 2.B | 3.B | 4.C | 5.D | 6. D