Adapt or Adopt

Vocabulary | Confusables


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The two words adapt and adopt, and their derivatives, are often confused by students. This lesson will look at how we use the two words and what the differences are between them. We will look at the words: adapt, adapted, adapting, adaption, adaptation, adapter, readapt, adaptive, adaptable, adapted, adaptive, adopt, adoption, adopter, adoptee, readopt, adoptable, adoptive, and adopted.

From the OED

adapt, v. (əˈdæpt) 

[a. Fr. adapte-r, ad. L. adaptā-re, f. ad to + aptā-re to fit; f. apt-us fit; see apt.] 

1.1 To fit (a person or thing to another, to or for a purpose), to suit, or make suitable. 

   1611 Florio, Addattare, to fit, to adapt, to appropriate [not in ed. 1598].    a 1616 B. Jonson Discov. Wks. 1616 II. 128 He is adapted to it by nature.    1636 Healey Epictetus' Man. xlii. 65 Adapt the discourses of thy friends unto thine owne as neere as thou canst.    1763 Miller Gard. Dict., A seminary is a seed-plot, which is adapted or set apart for the sowing of seeds.    1756 Burke Subl. & B. Wks. I. 182 The senses strongly affected in some one manner, cannot quickly change their tenour, or adapt themselves to other things.    1847 J. Yeowell Anc. Brit. Ch. i. 5 To have adapted poetry to the preservation of their historical memorials.    1855 Bain Senses & Intell. ii. ii. §3 (1864) 209 The structure of the outer ear is adapted to collect and concentrate the vibrations.

2. a.2.a To alter or modify so as to fit for a new use. 

   1774 Bryant Mythol. I. 117 It is called Anchia‥it signified either fons speluncæ, or spelunca fontis, according as it was adapted.    1858 Hawthorne Fr. & It. Jrnls. II. 199 A kind of farm-house, adapted, I suppose, out of the old ruin.

b.2.b To construct or produce by adaptation from. 

   1805 J. Wild (title) Dramas Adapted (from the Original French) to the English Stage.    1849 Athenæum 3 Nov. 1113/3 A three-act drama adapted from the French comedy.    1852 C. Reade (title) The Lost Husband. A drama‥written and adapted from the French.    1911 (title) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English adapted by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler‥from The Oxford Dictionary.

3.3 intr. To undergo modification so as to fit for a new use, etc. Const. to. Also absol. 

   1956 M. Bryan Intent to Kill vi. 67 In our country, the rich have no sense of responsibility. I wonder how they will adapt to the future.    1962 Listener 3 May 762/1 Birds certainly adapt to the urban community, and particularly well to the suburban community.    Ibid. 19 July 84/1 There is an absolute lack of imagination, or failure to adapt, a refusal to face the need for change.

adopt, v. (əˈdɒpt) 

[a. Fr. adopte-r (16th c. in Litt.) ad. L. adoptā-re to choose for oneself, esp. a child; f. ad to + optāre to choose; prop. a freq. vb. f. an obs. pple. *opt-us, f. *op-ĕre to wish.] 

1. a.1.a gen. To take (any one) voluntarily into any relationship (as heir, son, father, friend, citizen, etc.) which he did not previously occupy. Const. as (to, unto, n. in appos. Obs.). 

   1548 Hall Hen. VII, an. 7 (R.) He did adopt to his heyre of all his realmes and dominions, Lewes the XI.    1598 R. Barckley Felicitie of Man iii. (1603) 158 Adopting mee to his sonne in law.    1593 Shakes. 3 Hen. VI, i. i. 135 May not a King adopt an Heire?    c 1735 Pope Hor. Ep. i. vi. 108 Adopt him son or Cousin at the least.    1757 Johnson Rambler No. 142 ⁋12 Those whom he happens to adopt as favourites.    1782 Cowper Retirement 725 Friends, not adopted, with a schoolboy's haste, But chosen with a nice discerning taste.    1818 Hallam Middle Ages (1872) II. 91 They were adopted into the Diet.

b.1.b To choose (an applicant) as a candidate for election to the House of Commons. 

   1879 G. C. Brodrick Polit. Stud. 270 The indifferent and wavering electors‥will be less disposed to gravitate towards him than if he had been unanimously recommended and unanimously adopted.    1905 Times 21 Dec. 10/3 This meeting of Unionist electors‥deeply regrets the precipitate action of the council of the Constitutional Union in adopting him [sc. Ld. Robert Cecil] as Unionist candidate for East Marylebone.    1922 Mid Cumberland & N. Westmorland Herald 4 Nov. 5/1 Major-General Sir Cecil Lowther, the late Member, was adopted as candidate for the ensuing election.    1969 M. Rush Sel. Parliamentary Candidates ii. 53 The recommended candidate, Angus Maude, used the phrase ‘If you adopt me…’ no less than ten times, although at the end of the meeting members were handed printed posters urging electors to ‘Vote for Maude’.    1979 J. Grimond Memoirs vi. 97 Had Lady Glen-Coats not recommended me to the Liberals there, I should never have been adopted—and probably would never have been an M.P. at all.

c.1.c To take up the cause or campaign for the release of (a political prisoner). 

   1961 Amnesty 11 July 4/1 Anyone who writes to Amnesty to ask ‘Can I adopt a prisoner?’ is asked to take on the case not of one prisoner but of three.    1969 Listener 13 Feb. 196/2, I have no idea‥what part, if any, such Amnesty devices as letters written to governments and judicial authorities by Amnesty groups which ‘adopt’ particular prisoners‥play in securing [their] release.    1977 Daily Mirror 15 Mar. 23/5 Groups exist‥which ‘adopt’ particular individuals as David Markham ‘adopted’ Bukovsky. It would be good to see this practice spreading.

2. a.2.a esp. (Without complement, and sometimes absol.) To take as one's own child, conferring all the rights and privileges of childship, or such of them as the law permits to be thus conferred. 

   1604 Shakes. Oth. i. iii. 191, I had rather to adopt a Child, then get it.    1750 Chambers Cycl. s.v., Pope John VIII adopted Boson, king of Arles, which perhaps is the only instance in history of adoption in the order of ecclesiastics.    1873 R. Broughton Nancy III. 20 My child! my child!‥what possessed me to marry you? why did not I adopt you instead?

b.2.b Of a local authority: to take over (from private ownership, etc.) responsibility for a road, etc. 

   1862 Act. 25 & 26 Vict. c. 61 §45 It shall and may be lawful for the Council of every such Borough in England and Wales‥to adopt all or any of such Parish Roads and Highways as the Council shall in its Discretion consider advisable.    1907 Justice of Peace (Reports) LXXI. 564/3 In 1904 the widening and laying out of Stubbington Avenue as a road forty feet wide for the whole of its length was completed, but it had never been adopted by any resolution of the council of the plaintiffs.    1958 Times 22 Mar. 7/6 A frontager who considers that they [sc. roads] should have been adopted.

†3.3 To receive a graft, as a tree. [L. fac ramum ramus adoptet Ov. Rem. 195.] Obs. 

   1601 Holland Pliny (1634) II. Fit one [vine stocke] to the other, ioyning pith to pith, and then binding them fast together so close, that no aire may enter between, vntill such time as the one hath adopted the other.

4. a.4.a To take up (a practice, method, word, or idea) from some one else, and use it as one's own; to embrace, espouse. 

   1607 Shakes. Cor. iii. ii. 48 Which, for your best ends, You adopt your policy.    1749 Chesterfield Lett. 205 II. 280 Adopt no systems, but study them yourself.    1850 Kingsley Alt. Locke (1876) I. 11 He might possibly not have adopted the costume of the island.    1879 Froude Cæsar xxiii. 397 These men had married Egyptian wives and had adopted Egyptian habits.

b.4.b Philol. (as used in this Dict.) To take a word from a foreign language into regular use without (intentionally) changing its form.

   Thus: We have adopted the modern German names of several rocks and minerals, as gneiss, hornblende, quartz, and nickel. 

5.5 To take (a course, etc.) as one's own (without the idea of its having been another's), to choose for one's own practice. 

   1769 Junius Lett. xxxv. 160 You cannot hesitate long upon the choice which it equally concerns your interests and your honour to adopt.    1833 H. Martineau Manch. Strike ix. 92 He adopted one posture, from which he determined not to move.    1875 Higginson Hist. U.S. xvii. 164 His resolutions were adopted by a small majority.

†6.6 causal. To make over to any one as his child, adherent, or subject; to affiliate, attach. [L. se alicui adoptare.] Obs. 

   1725 Pope Odyss. xv. 521 Sold to Laertes by divine command, And now adopted to a foreign land.

†7.7 To name after; to name anew after an adoptive parent; to christen or rechristen. [L. aliquid (suo nomini) adoptare.] Obs. 

   1601 Holland Pliny (1634) I. 109 When you are past Smyrna, you come into certain plains, occasioned by the riuer Hermus, and therefore adopted in his name.

8.8 To approve, to confirm (accounts, reports, etc.). 

   1906 Galsworthy Man of Property 178, I propose then that the report and accounts be adopted.    1958 Oxford Mail 16 Aug. 8/7 The best balance sheet the club has ever had was unanimously adopted at the annual general meeting of the Oxford Club League.

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