al·​ter·​na·​tion | \ ˌȯl-tər-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce alternation (audio) also ˌal- \

Definition of alternation

1a : the act or process of alternating or causing to alternate
b : alternating occurrence : succession
3 : the occurrence of different allomorphs or allophones

Examples of alternation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Topped with pineapple, ribbons of raw onion, cilantro and salsa taquera, his al pastor needs no alternation. Washington Post, "Taqueria Las Gemelas wants to give you one perfect bite, and it often does," 19 Apr. 2021 The World in a Selfie is occasionally disjointed, but this alternation between objects of inquiry is also part of its charm and provides us with a sense of tourism’s broad reach. Sophie Haigney, The New Republic, "Are We Ready for the Return of Mass Tourism?," 9 Mar. 2021 The bitter aftermath of the financial crisis has already demolished the old two-party system which ensured a smooth alternation of power between left and right for 35 years after the return of democracy. Alberto Nardelli,, "Spain’s Toxic Politics, Health Woes Have Got Merkel Worried," 4 Oct. 2020 The Beijing auto show, held every other year in alternation with the Shanghai auto show, has proved a fairly good lens through the years for focusing the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese economy. Keith Bradsher, New York Times, "China’s Economy Comes Roaring Back, Led by Wealthy Consumers," 28 Sep. 2020 The team suspects this odd trait is a product of H. salminicola’s extreme lifestyle, which involves alternation between two hosts—fish and worms—both environments lacking in an abundance of fresh air. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, "This Animal Doesn’t Need Oxygen to Survive," 4 Mar. 2020 In contrast, the alternations that the UCSF team identified were precisely aligned with every other cycle of the theta rhythm. Quanta Magazine, "In Brain Waves, Scientists See Neurons Juggle Possible Futures," 24 Feb. 2020 Agriculture would give only one key element to thought: rhythm, the alternation between blossoming and withering. New York Times, "‘The Celestial Hunter,’ by Roberto Calasso: An Excerpt," 28 Apr. 2020 Its inventor, Elisha Perkins, insisted that gently stroking each tractor over the affected area in alternation would draw off the electricity and provide relief. Hannah Fry, The New Yorker, "Big Tech Is Testing You," 24 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alternation.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of alternation

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for alternation

Middle English alternacioun, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin alternātiōn-, alternātiō, from alternāre "to ebb and flow, act in alternation, arrange in alternating order" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at alternate entry 1

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Time Traveler for alternation

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The first known use of alternation was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

26 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Alternation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for alternation


al·​ter·​na·​tion | \ ˌȯl-tər-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce alternation (audio) \

Kids Definition of alternation

: the act, process, or result of taking place by turns alternation of light and dark

More from Merriam-Webster on alternation

Nglish: Translation of alternation for Spanish Speakers

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