Thursday, May 10, 2012

English Help: Altar - Alter

Many English speakers pronounce the words "altar" and "alter" in the same way, but the words have very different meanings and you need to learn to choose the correct spelling. These quotations and proverbs can help you recognize the difference between these two words:

ALTAR (noun): a structure where religious offerings are placed

Lay silently the injuries you receive upon the altar of oblivion. [Hosea Ballou, American theologian]

The temple of fame stands upon the grave; the flame that burns upon its altars is kindled from the ashes of dead men. [William Hazlitt, English author]

How the universal heart of man blesses flowers: they are wreathed round the cradle, the marriage altar, and the tomb! [Lydia Maria Francis Child, American author]

ALTER (verb): to change (you can see the same root in these words: alteration, alternative, etc.)

A wise man ought not to be ashamed to alter his purpose. [English proverb]

No one can alter what is past. [Latin proverb]

You cannot alter the Fates. [Latin proverb]

The Romans imagined the Fates (called "Parcae" in Latin) as three women: Nona would spin out the thread of life, while Decuma would measure the length of the thread, and Morta would cut off the thread of life at the moment of a person's death.

(Sculpture by Johann Gottfried Schadow)

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