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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.

We developed today’s grammar tip in response to an inquiry from a reader. Do you have a suggestion for a weekly newsletter article on a grammar topic that’s been concerning you? If you haven’t found your answer after searching our English Rules and Grammar Blog tabs, please send your topic idea to newsletter@grammarbook.com.

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