Alter vs. Altar: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever read a passage and wondered whether the author is writing about an act of sacrifice or a modification?

If you have, it is probably because the author misused either alter or altar. Their spellings are very close, so even experienced writers sometimes use the wrong one, but they are actually different parts of speech.

This article will provide an explanation of the differences between these two words, should you require one. Now you won’t have to worry about whether to use altar or alter in your own writing, and your reading comprehension will improve, as well.

What is the Difference Between Alter and Altar?

In this post, I will compare alter vs altar. I will use both of these words in at least one example sentence, so that you can easily see how to use them correctly. Plus, I will discuss a useful trick to help you remember whether altar or alter is appropriate for your writing.

When to Use Alter

Definition of altar definition of alterWhat does alter mean? Alter is a verb. It means to change or modify something. See the sentences below for examples.

  • “I have altered the deal,” the villain said. “Pray I don’t alter it further.”
  • Bring the dress to a seamstress, and she will alter it for you.
  • At the start of the postseason, with the Chicago Cubs about to embark on a journey that would forever alter the baseball landscape, manager Joe Maddon gathered his players together to deliver a message: Prepare for something to go horribly wrong. –The Wall Street Journal

Sometimes, alter is an adjective, as in the phrase alter ego. In this case, it is a synonym for alternate.

  • The superhero had an alter ego as an unassuming journalist.

When to Use Altar

Define altar define alterWhat does altar mean? Altar is a noun. An altar is a structure upon which sacrifices are made. Altars can be shaped like a table, or a simple pile of rocks, or many other shapes.

Here are some examples:

  • Lay the boy upon the altar, and we will sacrifice him to the gods.
  • The prophet constructed an altar out of rounded stones, and began to pile wood on top of it.
  • At the top of the monument, a blood-stained altar stood as a warning to those who opposed the priestess.

During a wedding ceremony, you lead someone to the altar, or in some unfortunate circumstances, leave someone at the altar.

  • When word spread earlier this week that J. Crew, the catalog and clothing retailer, was leaving its bridal business at the altar, the reaction was one of collective dismay. –The New York Times

Trick to Remember the Difference

alter versus altarHere is a helpful trick to remember altar vs. alter.

The most important thing you need to remember is that altar is a noun and alter is usually a verb, and occasionally an adjective.

The two words are never interchangeable.

  • Altar is only ever a noun.
  • Alter is never a noun.

You can remember that alter is a verb since both alter and verb are spelled with the letter E.

Summary

Is it alter or altar? Alter and altar are spelled in similar ways, but they are different parts of speech.

  • Altar is a noun; it refers to a structure used for sacrifices.
  • Alter is usually a verb; it means to change or modify something, and sometimes an adjective, where it is synonymous with alternate in that word’s adjective sense.

Alter and altar are never interchangeable. You can remember that alter is a verb since both it and the word verb are spelled using the letter E.

In summary, altar is a noun, but alter is a verb. If you have trouble remembering, you can always check this article for a quick refresher on these words.