Words With C-Suite: Impact, Alternate and Alternative

Wordy Wednesdays are designed to assist assistants.  Check back each week for grammar lessons, clarifications of words or expressions, or just to brush up on what you already know! 

Impact: Many writers do not consider the use of impact as a verb to be correct.  However, language evolves (see the latest addition of the word “twerk” in the Oxford dictionary).  The first definition of “impact” as a verb is “to pack firmly together.”  Think of cramming things into a box.  The second most common definition for impact as a verb is “to strike forcefully.”  It’s best to replace “impact” with “affect” whenever appropriate.

Alternate v. Alternative

Alternate, as a verb, refers to an occurrence, in turn, repeatedly.  As an adjective, it refers to every other of an item. 

Alternative is never a verb, but sometimes a noun or adjective.  As a noun, “alternative” signifies one of two or more available possibilities.  As an adjective, it implies (of one or more things) available as another possibility.  It’s closely related to “instead of” where there is more than one viable option to yield the same result.  Here are examples which differentiate the two:

Alternate (v.)  The administrative assistants alternate who picks up lunch orders each week.  This use implies that this week, Suzie Admin will pick up the lunch orders, and next week, Joey Admin will take over that responsibility. They take turns repeatedly for an undefined amount of time (their tenure with the company).

Alternate (adj.) The administrative assistants work each week on alternate schedules.

Alternative (n.) As she prepared to submit an offer to a candidate, the hiring manager understood that if that candidate declined, she still had three alternatives for the vacant position of the Executive Assistant to the CEO.

Alternative (adj.) When Suzie turned down the offer, Mr. Bigstuff settled on Joey as his alternative assistant.