Check your options: Choosing ‘alternate’ or an ‘alternative’

How many alternatives do you have when you have one option? Two options? Three? Does “alternate” mean “alternative”? Let’s clear up some confusion about three similar terms.

Frequently the words “option” and “alternative” are used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

Let’s say Horatio has a primary plan of action. He says, “I’m going to finish this report before we leave on our family trip this holiday weekend. That way I can enjoy the holiday, help with the driving, and relax when we get home Sunday afternoon.”

Great plan, but is that the only possibility? No, Horatio has some alternatives to Plan A. Let’s count them:

1) Horatio can work on his report in the car going to and from the destination.

2) He can carve out some time while he’s at Aunt Esther’s house and finish the report there; it should take only a few hours, right?

3) Horatio can wait until he gets home and spend Sunday evening doing the report.

For the sake of this illustration, let’s leave it at that. After all, Horatio has enough to handle without computing all the permutations.

So, Horatio has the original Plan A, and the three other possibilities. How many alternatives does he have?

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