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Alter vs. Altar (Definition, with Examples)

Alter or altar?

Alter vs. altar

Alter and altar sound nearly the same, and are only a single letter apart. Still, they are not the same. Both words belong to separate parts of speech, and are unrelated in meaning. And so should be used accordingly:

  • Alter is a verb that means to change or modify something.

  • Altar is a noun that refers to “a structure with a flat top, often shaped like a table, that is used in some religious ceremonies”.

“Alter” / “altar”, used in sentences

Examples: “alter”, used in sentences
Prices did not alter significantly during 2019.

He had altered so much I scarcely recognized him.

The landscape has been radically altered by changes in the climate.

He has the power to fundamentally alter the course of history.
Examples: “altar”, used in sentences
He built an altar to God and made a sacrifice.

He placed the candles on the altar.

Helen and Tony kneeled at the altar.

The bride approached the altar.

Altar, synonyms

  • assembly
  • board
  • church table
  • pedestal
  • shrine

Alter, synonyms

  • adjust
  • amend
  • change
  • develop
  • modify
  • reshape
  • revamp
  • revise
  • shift
  • transform
  • vary

Word origin (of altar/alter)

late 14c., “to change (something), make different in some way,” from Old French alterer “to change, alter,” from Medieval Latin alterare “to change,” from Latin alter “the other (of the two)”.

Old English alter, altar “altar,” from Latin altare (plural altaria) “high altar, altar for sacrifice to the great gods,” perhaps originally meaning “burnt offerings”.

Read about other misused words

Commonly misused wordsUK English vs. US English
former vs. latterburned or burnt?
bear with vs. bare withcolor or colour?
breathe or breathfavorite vs. favourite
compliment vs. complementsmelled or smelt?
effect vs. affectgray or grey?
elude or alludefavor vs. favour
it’s or itsanalyze or analyse?


  1. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary on “altar” and “alter”. Accessed 18 March, 2024.

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