Altar - alter

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Altar and alter form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

Both altar and alter are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, with the first vowel of like that of AWE and 'or', and the second vowel the indeterminate shwa: AWL-ter, IPA: /ˈɒl tər/

  • Altar is a noun, the name of an object used in religious contexts, and in some figurative meanings. An altar is a slab or table or carved stone rock on which sacrifices are made. Abraham, in a story familiar to Muslims, Jews and Christians, wished to sacrifice his son on the altar.
    • In modern Christian practice, the 'sacrifice' offered at the altar is the symbolic sacrifice of bread and wine in some churches. In some reformed churches, the central object in the church is called 'the Lord's Table', and altar is regarded as an unnecessarily superstitious name for the object in question.
  • To alter is a verb. Its basic meaning is the same as that of 'to change'.
    • You may also see the Latin phrase alter ego, which means 'other self', a second personality hidden behind the obvious one; or, sometimes, another person who seems very close to the person whose alter ego he is.