Grammar Choices vs. Options and Alternatives |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Choices vs. Options and Alternatives

If a salesperson presents you with three inkjet printers to consider for purchase, is he or she giving you choices—or options?

These two nouns were once more distinct from each other, but the line has blurred as common usage continues evolving.

Today, you will not lose meaning or clarity when using either word to refer to something for selection, particularly in spoken English. However, the careful and accurate writer will acknowledge the difference between choices and options and reinforce it in practice.

Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish choices from options is to remember that options are the items or categories from which we choose.

In our sales scenario above, you are making your choice from three options for an inkjet printer.

We can buttress this discussion by continuing your sales scenario. Let’s say you break down and admit to the salesperson that you received a big bonus at work. You’re open to splurging on an even bigger-ticket item than a new inkjet printer.

You express interest in home entertainment, home fitness, and home décor. The salesperson leads you to these areas, which are options among which you’ll make a categorical choice. (Another good topic to review in this context is Among vs. Between. This recent article from January 11, 2017, specifies our grammatical stance on which word to use when writing of two or more people or things.)

On a similar note, a word that can often be switched and confused with option is alternative. Like choices and options, these nouns have distinctions.

Alternatives are the options other than one standing alone within a group of them.

To illustrate, let’s say you chose home entertainment as your option for splurging. Your alternatives to home entertainment would have been home fitness and home décor.

With this reasoning, you will always have one more option than alternatives. In our splurging scenario, you had three options, each with two alternatives.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

7 responses to “Choices vs. Options and Alternatives

  1. Octavio Pineda says:

    Very useful explanation. Thanks again for your great grammar work.

  2. Manuel says:

    Wow! This explanation is truly helpful. I love this page!

  3. Jack says:

    If you have three options, but only one choice, then you may choose one of the three options as your choice.

    If, instead, you have two choices, then you may choose twice, i.e. you may choose two of the three options with your two choices.

    So, if you write that someone has two choices, you’re saying they may choose twice.

    Sure, that’s not common (read sloppy, in my book) usage. It’s up to each of us how sloppy we wish to sound.

  4. Emily says:

    Which is correct?

    “The two options I have are burgers or wraps.”
    “The two options I have are burgers and wraps.”

    Thank you!

    • says:

      Either sentence would be understood; however, using and is cleaner English in formal writing.

  5. Jay Lotab says:

    Can you say “an alternative option would be…”?

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