Alter/Altar – what’s the difference?

I had the pleasure to review 7 draft WIP chapters over the last 2 weeks and three of them have altars in their novels.  All three of the authors, however, spelled the word ‘alter’, not ‘altar’, which led me to this post.

I guess I could have written this for my first A-Z post beginning April 1, but I already have one written for the letter ‘A’ so I guess I’ll try to help out here.  Whoo hoo!  🙂  Let’s go.  Just what you wanted, right?

First of all, let me say I’ve made this mistake myself.  Part of it comes from just typing fast and then skipping over it when editing.  (Hey, it’s my story, I’ll tell it like I want.)  Then there are times that I actually spelled it wrong.  (*hangs head in shame*)

Just so you don’t have to hang your head in shame like I did, here are the differences:

Altar is a noun.

I was fascinated by the crystal ball perched on the wizard’s altar.

Alter is a verb that means to change something.  You use this when you do something to a noun.

I have to alter the wizard’s gown.

Or, if you’re a silly construction worker, you could say:  I have to alter the altar.

Simple, right?  Take the test and find out.  The answers are at the end.

1.  She knelt at the _____ to pray.

a.  alter
b. altar

2.  _____ the lighting in the room to highlight the brightness of the diamond.

a.  alter
b.  altar

3.  You cannot stand at the ______ until you are ready.

a.  alter
b.  altar

4.  Have the seamstress _____ the hem.

a.  alter
b.  altar

Good luck and have fun!


1.  b
2.  a
3.  b
4.  a

7 thoughts on “Alter/Altar – what’s the difference?

  1. Can not WAIT for your A-Z series, Jenny.

    I often find that — even though I know the difference between the Problem Children in the Word’s Family–I type the wrong one unintentionally because…

    I have no clue. No clue

    Put it’s/its, waste/waist, your/you’re, alter/altar on a quiz like the one above, and I’ll ace it every time. Put me in the flurry of typing prose, and I find myself mixing them up.

    So, to all writers with the same problem…

    There, their, they’re, dears. No need to hang your head in shame like the to, too, two cute penguin.

    Fortunately, I catch most of my bloopers. Unfortunately, it’s right after I hit “send.”


  2. Sometimes it’s hard when editing your own stuff when there are typos that don’t get picked up by Spellcheck, but there are also many homonyms that people get confused about. I have to bite my tongue when I read friends’ post on Facebook. The most common error is their/they’re or its/it’s. It drives me crazy but I don’t want to turn off my friends by constantly harping on their horrendous spelling. When it comes to correcting the work of a fellow writer who has come to me for help, I am more than happy to get out the red pen and instruct them as to the correct usage of their mistakes. Often, as has happened with my own work, it was simply a typo and they acknowledge that they need to be more diligent when self-correcting their writing. Thanks, Jenny, for posting about the altar/alter confusion. 🙂


    1. I see those words misspelled a lot (they’re/their/there; it’s/its), but like you, unless someone asks me to critique or edit their work, I keep my mouth closed. It is annoying, though. I guess the editor in us never shuts off. 🙂


  3. Nice! Could you do one one lie and lay? I know it’s not quite the same thing but I’m always confused, same with who and whom. Both of which I knew once upon a time, but I find I never get them right anymore. Help!


    1. look for my A – Z posts coming up in April when I’ll address these two. (I’ve already written the posts for them because they always confuse everyone)


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