'Adopt' vs 'Adapt': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on November 9, 2023

‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’: What’s the difference? When the only thing that separates two words is one little letter, we have to take extra care to learn their differences. Learn how to ‘Adapt’ to small changes and ‘Adopt’ a better understanding of new vocabulary with this article. 

Are you in a rush? Here’s a quick preview of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Adopt’ is a word that means to choose or to take on legally
  • ‘Adapt’ is a word that means to modify something to make it suitable

What’s the Difference Between ‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’?

The obvious difference between these two words is their one-letter change, but what does that tell us about these words? Let’s first look at their origins. 

Both ‘adopt’ vs ‘adapt’ use the Latin prefix ‘ad-’ which means “to.” Since those are the same, we can look at their roots/suffixes to identify a difference.

  • The root of ‘adopt’ is the Latin ‘optare’ which means “choose,” kind of like the word “option.” You can use the root to remind you that ‘adopt’ means to choose or have options. 
  • Meanwhile, the root of ‘adapt’ is ‘aptare’ which comes from ‘aptus’ meaning “fit.” When something ‘adapts’ it fits into a new place or circumstance, so use the root as a reminder of that.

Of course, if one is easier to recall than the other, you can memorize one and then use the process of elimination. But this way, you have an understanding of where each word came from. Similarly to using the roots as reminders, you can also use other spelling hints. 

The word ‘adapt’ starts similarly to its synonym ‘adjust.’ You can use the first two letters “ad-” as a context clue in that case.

  • Be careful not to combine that with the first two letters of ‘adopt.’

Meanwhile, remember that ‘adopt’ has an ‘o’ in it, just like the word “choose,” which you can use as a hint to its meaning. 

Yet, while all of this is helpful, it doesn’t give us a full picture of the individual meanings of each word. Let’s look closer and dive into the definitions of ‘adopt’ vs ‘adapt.’

Definition of ‘Adopt’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘adopt’ is a verb that means:

  • To legally take another’s child and bring it up as one’s own
    • There are many people eager to adopt a baby.”
  • Choose to take up, follow, or use
    • “This approach has been adopted by many big banks.”
  • Choose and move to a country or city as one’s permanent place of residence
  • Take on or assume an attitude or position
    • “He adopted a patronizing tone.”
  • Choose someone as a candidate for office
    • “She was recently adopted as Labour candidate for the constituency.”
  • Formally approve or accept a report or suggestion
    • “The committee voted to adopt the proposal.”
  • To take as one’s own

Synonyms of ‘Adopt’

  • Choose 
  • Raise
  • Select
  • Foster
  • Accept
  • Approve
  • Embrace
  • Endorse
  • Ratify
  • Support

Antonyms of ‘Adopt’

  • Deny
  • Discard
  • Neglect
  • Disown
  • Oppose
  • Let go
  • Reject
  • Repudiate
  • Shun
  • Renounce

Phrases with ‘Adopt’

  • I’m adopted
  • Adopt a child
  • Adopt a highway
  • Adopt an approach

Definition of ‘Adapt’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘adapt’ is a verb that means:

  • Make something suitable for a new use or purpose; modify
    • “Hospitals must be adapted for new medical practices.”
  • Become adjusted to new conditions
    • “A large organization can be slow to adapt to change.”
  • Alter a text to make it suitable for filming, broadcasting, or the stage
    • “The miniseries was adapted from the novels.”
  • To change slightly over time in order to continue existing in an environment
    • “The species adapted to climate changes.”

Synonyms of ‘Adapt’

  • Acclimate
  • Adjust
  • Alter
  • Fit
  • Conform
  • Accustom
  • Modify
  • Revise
  • Suit
  • Tailor to
  • Habituate
  • Match

Antonyms of ‘Adapt’

  • Neglect
  • Reject
  • Disturb 
  • Disorder
  • Unfit
  • Refuse
  • Dislocate
  • Unreactive

Phrases with ‘Adapt’

  • Improvise, adapt, overcome
  • Adapt or perish
  • Adapt to change
  • Adaptation

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’

Since the thing that separates these words on paper is just one letter, learning to pronounce them is easy. Be sure to focus on the vowel that is different because saying that clearly and correctly will help you avoid confusion when speaking these words aloud

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘adopt’ as a guide:

  • ‘Uh-dop-t’ (the first vowel is flat like “some,” and the ‘o’ is wide as in the word “stop”) 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘adapt’ as a guide:

  • ‘Uh-dap-t’ (notice the only change is the second vowel, where the ‘a’ is wide like in the word “apple”)

How to Use ‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new vocabulary is being able to use the words in your own scenarios. Use the sample sentences below as a reference to see how these words can appear in different contexts. 

‘Adopt’ Example Sentences

  • Some families are unable to have children of their own but still want kids, so they choose to adopt as an alternative. 
  • Many people try to take on new habits at the start of a new year and will make resolutions to adopt a new workout routine. 
  • The government intended to adopt the new proposal at the start of the month, but there were some complications with the approval process. 
  • The teacher adopted a calmer tone in order to get her rowdy classroom to settle down and listen

‘Adapt’ Example Sentences

  • Since she was raised in Florida, it took her a few years to adapt to the freezing winters in her new home city of Chicago.
  • Many similar species of birds adapted over time to have differently shaped beaks more suitable for the food available in their environments. 
  • He was recognized for being a good leader due to his ability to adapt to challenging situations in the workplace. 
  • The Academy Award went to a movie whose screenplay was adapted from a collection of famous Civil War poems. 

‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’ Example Sentences

  • Many kids who are adopted don’t always practice the same culture as the one they were born into and have to adapt to new customs. 
  • When the company adopted a new dress code policy, many felt they needed to go shopping to adapt their wardrobes to the change. 
  • Some species of lizards have adapted to their colorful environment and are able to camouflage by changing the color of their skin to adopt the pattern of leaves around it.

Final Words on ‘Adopt’ vs ‘Adapt’

One-letter differences in words can be challenging to navigate at first because they are hard to differentiate at first glance. But, when we get to the root of the word, both literally and by way of understanding definitions, things become clearer. Just remember to clearly enunciate the vowels that mark the difference between our new words. 

Need a recap? Let’s go over what we learned:

  • ‘Adopt’ is a verb that means to choose something or take it as one’s own.
  • ‘Adapt’ is a verb that means to change slightly or modify to become suitable for use.

There are plenty of other pairs of words that only differ by one letter. Want to learn more about them and how to navigate them? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that give you more helpful hints and spelling clues that will expand your vocabulary in no time.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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