Learn English – The noun “alternative”


If I am not mistaken, the noun alternative has roots in the Latin word alter, which translates to: the other (of two).

My question would be: why does the word alternative have plural in English? It is clear from the definition of alter that to every possible choice there can be only one alternative?

To quote Oxford Dictionaries (link):

Some traditionalists maintain that you can only have a maximum of two alternatives, because the word alternative comes from Latin alter ‘other (of two)’) and that uses where there are more than two alternatives are wrong. Such uses are, however, normal in modern standard English.

If the uses where there are more than two alternatives are considered to be wrong, why are they normal in modern standard English? Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated.

Remark. It is the same in several other languages (German and Croatian being two examples that I am aware of).

Best Answer

The fact that the definition of alter is based on only one choice of two means that there is more than one choice...so right here there are two alternatives!

The English word alternative may be based on the word alter, but in the English usage, there are more than two choices. In fact, there are occasions when there are numerous alternatives from which to choose. For example, if you are looking to buy a car, you can choose between a Ford, a Chevy, a Dodge, etc. In fact, there are numerous choices of models in each of the brand names.

In this situation you have many alternatives from which to choose.