Altar and alter are different words and are not interchangeable. Although they may almost sound the same, they differ in spelling and meaning. Altar is a noun that means a holy table or surface used for religious ceremonies or purposes, while alter is a verb that means to change something.
Remember, altar (the one spelled with the letter “a”) is always used as a noun while alter (the one spelled with theletter “e”) always functions as a verb. Therefore, use altar when referring to a holy table (noun) and use alter when referring to the action of changing something (verb).
When to Use Altar
We use altar as a noun when referring to the raised structure or table where we offer sacrifices during worship or religious ceremonies. Moreover, it also refers to the area furthest from a church entrance where the priest or minister stands.
Figuratively, the word is often used to describe a thing given great value, especially at the cost of something else. It’s part of the idioms “on the altar of something” and “lead to the altar.” The former means in order to achieve something while the latter means to ultimately lead to marriage respectively.
Altar as a Noun
A holy table used for religious ceremonies
The border of the altar has embroidered lace.
When we went to the church, I noticed the newly furnished crucifix on the altar.
During the wedding ceremony, it was my duty to light the candles on the altar.
The area furthest from a church’s entrance
The distance between the altar and the church entrance is too far away.
I noticed the fancy altar clothing during the mass.
The priest paced back and forth on the altar during the sermon.
Altar as Part of an Idiom
On the altar of something
She sacrificed her happiness on the altar of her career.
The company’s greed exceeded on the altar of profit.
Lead to the altar
The couple was happily led to the altar.
Misha and Jan were finally led to the altar.
When to Use Alter
We used alter as a verb when referring to an action that means to change something. Furthermore, we also use alter when changing a piece of clothing. When we alter clothes, we adjust them to fit us better. It’s commonly confused with the word “altar,” so be careful with choosing between alter and altar since they are almost sound the same, but entirely different words.
Alter as a Verb
To change something
I need to alter an official disbursement.
They had to alter her face after surgery.
Joan altered her personality for an audition.
To adjust a piece of clothing
We had to alter the wedding gown one week before her wedding.
I need my tuxedo to be altered.
The designer thinks he should alter the dress.
Altar vs. Alter: Is There a Difference?
There’s a difference between altar and alter. Altar is used as noun referring to a holy table for religious ceremonies while alter is used as a verb that means to change something. Remember, altar (the one spelled with the letter “a”) is always a noun (thing), and alter (the one spelled with the letter “e”) is always a verb.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online. (n.d.). Altar. In https://www.ldoceonline.com/ dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/altar
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online. (n.d.). Alter. In https://www.ldoceonline.com/ dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/alter
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Altar. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/altar
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Alter. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alter