Word Confusion: Altar versus Alter

Posted May 23, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Don’t alter that altar! You never know if the ancestors will get upset!

Almost as upset as an editor might get if you confuse these two words…*grin*…!

Seriously though, there is a big difference between an altar at which one worships a particular deity as opposed to alter which may allow you to change how the altar looks, but will also change just about anything.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Altar Alter
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Santeria-Slavery” courtesy of The Earthen Vessel.

“Sew Alterations” courtesy of “How to Sew Alterations” at eHow

Part of Grammar:
Plural: altars
Adjective; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: alters
Past tense or past participle: altered
Gerund or present participle: altering

Table in a Christian church at which the bread and wine are consecrated in communion services

A table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity


Verb, intransitive:
Change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way

Verb, transitive:
Change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way

Make structural changes to a building

Tailor clothing for a better fit or to conform to fashion

[North America & Australia] Castrate or spay a domestic animal

He knelt before the altar before making his way to the sacristy.

Someone had sacrificed chickens on this altar.

Many Buddhists set up a personal altar at home.

He was in an altered state.

Verb, intransitive:
Our outward appearance alters as we get older.

Verb, transitive:
We have plans to alter the building once we buy it.

Nothing alters the fact that we’re divorced.

We may remain the same on the inside, but we certainly alter on the outside.

I’m going to have to get this hem altered.

Adjective: half-altered, unaltering
Noun: alterer
Verb: prealter, realter
History of the Word:
Old English altar from the late Latin altar, altarium, which are from the Latin altus for high Late Middle English from Old French alterer which is from late Latin alterare which is from the Latin alter or other

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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