'Alter' vs 'Altar': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on July 15, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between 'alter' vs. 'altar?' You are in luck!

Here is the quick answer:

  • 'Alter' is a verb that means to change something.
  • 'Altar' is a noun for an object or place within a church where a priest or reverend performs religious ceremonies.

These terms are homophones. They sound the same but have different definitions, parts of speech, and spellings. So, many people confuse them.

This guide will teach you and help you remember the difference between the two words so you know which to use.

What is the Difference Between 'Alter' and 'Altar?'

'Alter' and 'altar' sound and look similar because they are homophones. However, 'alter' is a verb that means to change something, while the latter term is a noun that describes a location within a church where a reverend performs religious ceremonies.

  • For example, you would 'alter' a hem on your pants and get married at an 'altar.'
  • A religious 'altar' is also the raised table where a priest prepares communion or the Eucharist, while you 'alter' your plans if you change them.

So, you use the first term when describing an action and the second to describe a location.

When to Use 'Alter' or 'Altar'

Now that you know what these terms mean, let's closely examine when you use them. 

  • Use 'alter' to describe something you are changing.

For example, you could say:

I am sorry, but you must alter your plans because we do not have time to do everything you want. 

  • Use 'altar' to describe a raised table where a priest prepares communion during Mass.

For example, you might say:

The altar girls and boys assist the priest in preparing communion at the altar. 

  • Use 'alter' to describe something that changes but is still the same object.

For example, you could say:

The insurance agent told him that his insurance premiums could increase if he altered his car. 

  • Use 'altar' to describe the place where people get married.

It was beautiful to watch the bride and groom meet at the altar. 

  • Use 'alter' to describe something you rework.

For example, I might say:

The original design was not working, but it worked like a charm after we altered it a bit. 

  • Use 'altar' to describe a place where people used to offer human or blood sacrifices.

For example, you might hear someone say:

When we visited the Mayan temple, we saw the altar where the priests offered their human sacrifices. 

Definition of 'Alter': What Does 'Alter' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'alter' as a verb that means:

  • To change something without changing it completely

It can also mean:

  • To change something without making something a different object
  • To fix, castrate, or neuter an animal
  • To transform into a variety of the original object
  • To become other than the original

Synonyms of 'Alter'


  • Recast
  • Redo
  • Change
  • Makeover
  • Modify
  • Rework
  • Revamp
  • Rehab
  • Convert
  • Mutate
  • Transmute
  • Refashion
  • Retool
  • Transfigure
  • Regenerate

Definition of 'Altar': What Does 'Altar' Mean?

The same resource defines 'altar' as:

  • A raised surface where sacrifices are made, or incense is burned during a religious ceremony or service

It can also mean:

  • A figurative description of something of great value that you trade for something else
  • A tablelike structure in a Christian church where the reverend or priest prepares the Eucharist
  • A location that serves as the center of a religious ceremony
  • The site where a wedding officiant performs a marriage ceremony

Synonyms of 'Altar'

  • Stand
  • Podium
  • Pulpit
  • Stage
  • Balcony
  • Platform
  • Stand
  • Riser

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Alter' vs. 'Altar'

When learning new words, it is essential to look at their pronunciation. Knowing how to pronounce words helps to give you the confidence to use them in verbal and written communications. It also helps you to remember the meanings, spelling, and definitions of terms.

So, here is a pronunciation reference guide you can follow. 

  • To pronounce 'alter,' use this phonetic spelling:


  • To pronounce 'altar,' use this phonetic spelling:


As you can see, these terms have the same pronunciation.

Sample Sentences Using 'Alter' vs. 'Altar'

Before you go, read these sample sentences to ensure you understand how to use these terms in different contexts.


  • Do not alter your original idea too much. The design is solid, and the style is attractive. You need to modify it for functionality.
  • You cannot alter your puppy until they are at least a few months old. Otherwise, they could have complications.
  • If your plants are too long, you will have to alter them. Otherwise, you will step on their backs and mess them up.
  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you want to win the competition, you must alter your design.
  • You do not have to alter yourself for other people to like you. Just be yourself.
  • Are you thinking about altering your plans so John can attend the event?


  • The wedding altar was beautiful. It had pink, periwinkle, and violet-colored flowers.
  • At Mass, we watch the priest prepare the Eucharist at the altar.
  • The altar is a sacred place within the church.
  • He traded time with his family and friends at the altar of his new position.
  • As a child, I volunteered at church as an altar server.
  • Even when people do not get married in a church, they often have a wedding altar.

Final Advice on the Difference Between 'Alter' vs. 'Altar'

Finally, let's do a quick recap of what you learned about the difference between 'alter' vs. 'altar':

  • 'Alter' is a verb that means to change something without making it something else. 
  • 'Altar' is a noun for a location where a priest or reverend performs religious ceremonies or sacrifices. 

Like all homophones, 'alter and 'altar' mix up a lot of writers. So, if you need help with these terms in the future, return to this lesson for a quick review.

You can also learn many other challenging English words in the confusing words section here. Each guide contains valuable information like definitions, usage tips, and examples to help you learn and remember the difference between the terms they cover.

So, they are an excellent way to expand your vocabulary while learning critical grammar rules.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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