Word Confusion: Adapt versus Adopt

Posted July 17, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I suspect this word confusion is more likely to be inattention, and with a and o somewhat similar in letter shape, I can see why an author may let this word slip through. And it’s a certainty that a spellcheck won’t catch it as, no matter which word is used, it is spelled correctly but used in the wrong context.

‘Cause, hey, no one is going to adopt a two-pin plug. Nor will anyone adopt a sawed-off shotgun…hmmm, I suppose some gun nut might wanna… I suppose it’s a possibility that someone might adapt a child, but it sounds cold and Frankenstein-ish. As for adapting or adopting a road…well, the first sounds more physical, as if the road is being changed to accommodate an issue while the second has me wondering if someone is planting flowers or keeping it clean.

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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Adapt Adopt
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Cheater Plug Edited” by PleaseStand is a derivative work under the CC-BY-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

The most common adaptor we know…

“Adopt a Road” is Nowosielski’s own work under the CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Not the first thought that comes to mind when you think of adoption!

Part of Grammar:
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: adapts
Past tense or past participle: adapted
Gerund or present participle: adapting

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: adopts
Past tense or past participle: adopted
Gerund or present participle: adopting

Verb, intransitive:
Make something suitable for a new use or purpose


Become adjusted to new conditions

Alter [a text] to make it suitable for filming, broadcasting, or the stage

Verb, transitive:
Make something suitable for a new use or purpose


Alter a text to make it suitable for filming, broadcasting, or the stage

Legally take another’s child and bring it up as one’s own

Take up or start to use or follow an idea, method, or course of action

Take on or assume an attitude or position

[Adopt someone as] Choose someone to receive special recognition

Formally approve or accept a report or suggestion

Choose a textbook as standard or required for a course of study

Choose an animal to become a house pet

[Of a local authority] Accept responsibility for the maintenance of a road

Verb, intransitive:
A large organization can be slow to adapt to change.

The miniseries was adapted from Wouk’s novel.

Verb, transitive:
Hospitals have had to be adapted for modern medical practice.

The policies can be adapted to suit individual needs and requirements.

Mink are well adapted to hunting prey.

A large organization can be slow to adapt to change.

The miniseries was adapted from Wouk’s novel.

There are many people eager to adopt a baby.

This approach has been adopted by many big banks.

He adopted a patronizing tone.

For this exercise, adopt a slightly knees-bent position.

At least 23 people adopted as prisoners of conscience remain in jail.

The committee voted 5–1 to adopt the proposal.

The best way to know a dog’s traits is to adopt a mature dog.

Adjective: adaptable, nonadapting, unadapted, adaptive, adaptogenic, well-adapted
Adverb: adaptably, adaptively
Noun: adaptability, adaptation, adaptationism, adaptedness, adapter, adaption, adaptivity, adaptogen, adaptor
Verb: misadapt
Verb, transitive: readapt
Adjective: adoptable, quasi-adopted
Noun: adoptee, adopter, nonadopter
Verb, transitive: preadopt, quasi-adopt
History of the Word:
Late Middle English from the French adapter, which is from Latin adaptare, from ad-, meaning to + aptare (from aptus, or fit). Late 15th century via French from Latin adoptare, from ad- to + optare meaning choose.

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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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Sailors Conduct Roadside Cleanup is courtesy of the Official Navy Page from United States of America MC1 Jay C. Pugh/U.S. Navy and Magpie Goose Grooming by Arpingstone; both are in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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