Alternately vs. Alternatively

Here’s a case where using a very similar but very wrong word can completely change the meaning of the sentence.

Bad Example:
In a WAG project, water is injected alternatively with gas to enhance oil recovery.

Such a water-alternating-gas (WAG) flood uses an injected volume of water followed by an injected volume of gas, followed by another round of water and another round of gas. This is injecting water and gas alternately, not alternatively.

If one were to inject water and gas alternatively, one would choose either the gas alternative (option or choice) or the water alternative, injecting just one fluid.

Here are Webster’s definitions:

Alternate: succeeding by turns, every other one

Alternative: offering a choice, outside the norm (e.g., alternative energy)

The plot thickens, however, because Alternate can sometimes mean Alternative.

Traffic on the freeway was so bad she took an alternate route home. (another choice, not the normal route)

The adverb Alternately always has the connotation of taking turns. I do a lot of this when I’m baking, as the dry ingredients are often added to the mixer alternately with the wet ingredients. Now that the weather is cooling off a bit, I feel like cranking up the oven and baking some goodies for my fellow employees.

Personal “Alternate” Anecdote:
When I tried out for cheerleading, I initially did not make the squad. But during the summer, two girls came riding up to my house on their bikes to tell me that one of them had decided to do sports instead of cheerleading, and since I had the next highest score during tryouts, I got moved up to Alternate. Thus, if one of the cheerleaders was sick or benched for some reason, I got to cheer at the football and basketball games. I thought my whole life was going to change for the better: I would no longer be the brainy nerd, but would become a popular girl with boyfriends galore. Boy, was I wrong! I was still a nerd. In such a small town, nobody is going to mess with Coach’s daughter. But I got to cheer at the games, which was fun. The next year I was a regular cheerleader (not alternate), and they retired the Congeniality trophy to our little squad at the annual competition because we were so friendly compared to the big city squads and had won the Congeniality trophy  four out of the last ten years.

Typo of the Day:
Bean pump instead of beam pump – gotta pump those beans out!

International Talk Like a Pirate Day Joke:
Q: What color socks do pirates wear?
A: Aaaaaarrrrrrrgyle.


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