Nauseous and Alternative

In my office, our executive director has been exploring Google Plus as a means to encourage socialization among us, that is, starting a community exclusive to our department. Along with this, my supervisor suggested I might write posts now and then to share tricky grammatical rules, technique and usage, and best practices with my coworkers.

Frequently I use these posts as excuses to clear up misunderstandings in my own head, though I never let on about that. As it happens, one or two people actually do read my contributions and claim to like them. This is little-league material for the experts and authorities I follow on Twitter, I know, but I still need to pad out my blog and so thought I’d provide some examples.


Nauseous vs. Nauseated

TIL “nauseous” outdates “nauseated” to mean feeling sickly or in a state of nausea.

Many grammarians distinguish the two words as cause and effect. They hold that “nauseous” describes something that makes you feel ill, and “nauseated” is the state of feeling ill.

Well, today I read (via Madam Grammar) that both words have meant feeling nausea for just over four centuries. In this usage, “nauseous” was cited in 1604 and “nauseated” in 1612.

If we check out likely phrases in Google Ngrams, we see that in print media “feel/feeling nauseated” has been the preferred distinction since the mid-1800s. To “feel nauseous” saw a blip of usage around 1881 and declined six years later, the same with “feeling nauseous” (1901−1907). But in 1990 “feeling nauseous” took the lead and is still rising, and in 1989 “feel nauseous” started a steep inline, overtaking “feel nauseated” in 1998.

Graph showing usage of "nauseous" versus "nauseated" from 1850 to present day. "Feeling nauseous" is more popular now.

So which should you use? To be strictly formal (if fusty), you would use the grammarian’s distinction described above, but in practice, you will be understood either way. History will justify you.

(Note: Recently, John McIntyre produced a video on this topic.)


Alternate vs. Alternative
There’s been a little confusion in the usage of alternate and alternative, which hasn’t been helped by linguistic easement of their distinction. To put it clearly, the blog Grammarist described these two words in a 2012 post:

—”An alternate is something or someone that serves in the place of another”

—”An alternative is a second option that does not replace the first”

Both words work as nouns and adjectives, but only alternate can be a verb.

To confuse things, Grammar Girl points out that alternate can also mean alternating, “like odd- and even-numbered elements,” which doesn’t sound as if something has been replaced, but rather that additional options are being presented.For example, as adjectives, you could describe an “alternate route” to traffic because the primary route is under construction or has melted. The primary route no longer exists and has been replaced by an alternate route.

For example, as adjectives, you could describe an “alternate route” to traffic because the primary route is under construction or has melted. The primary route no longer exists and has been replaced by an alternate route.

But an “alternative energy source” does not replace the primary one. It could, someday, due to popular demand, but that is not because the primary source has disappeared. Solar, hydro, and wind are alternative to the primary choice that continues to exist.

Noun examples go like this: the backup juror who replaces one that has been disqualified is the alternate (adj.: the alternate juror). BlackBerry phones are an alternative to Android or Apple devices (adj.: an alternative phone).

There is no verb sense for alternative: you can’t alternative between seats on the bus, but commuters definitely alternate between seats and rows. And while the other seats are still viable alternatives (they continue to exist), the commuter can only select one, and that one has been eliminated from the selection of following commuters, and that’s as close as I can get to justifying this use.

In 2013, the language blog Grammarphobia stated that “American dictionaries now consider the adjective ‘alternate’ an acceptable substitute for ‘alternative’.” This is not a rule for formal style but a painfully honest admission of how people have been using these words.

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