Adaptor vs Adapter: What’s The Difference?

Since English in America originated from English in Europe, most of the words are the same, with slight variations. These words usually have an extra letter in them depending on the version that you decide to use. However, this practice can be confusing to people because it is quite easy to think that there is a right and wrong way to spell a word. 

This is especially the case when discussing American English in the United States vs. British English. Words can be confusing when this happens because you are never sure if there is a “right” version to use. Words in the English language often borrow spellings from other languages and swap an “i” for an “e” occasionally.

Let’s take a look at one of the examples for this with the word adaptor and adapter. 

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Definition of Adaptor

The first thing you should do when seeking to better understand a word is to define it. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word adaptor is defined as, “one that adapts, or a device for connecting two parts of an apparatus.” It is commonly used in terms of a power adapter plug for something like a hair dryer or even a cell phone charger. Travel adapters are necessary pieces of equipment because different countries often have different wall outlet formats with different prongs that won’t fit incompatible devices. 

History and Origin of the Word

Another way to look at a word is by examining its history and where it came from. According to its etymology, the word adaptor was first used in 1801 which came from the word adapt. From the Latin word “adaptatus” which was borrowed from Middle French. The Latin word “aptare” meant “to put into position or to make ready.”

Synonyms of Adaptor

One of the best ways to really cement a word into your memory is to learn its synonyms; words with similar meanings make it easy to remember how to properly use a word.  Here are some basic synonyms for adaptor:

  • Converter: an electrical device for altering the nature of an electric current or signal, especially from AC to DC or vice versa, or from analog to digital or vice versa, or to a dual voltage power supply.
  • Attachment: an extra part or extension that is or can be attached to an electronic device to perform a particular function.
  • Addition: a person or thing added or joined, typically in order to improve something.
  • Adjunct: a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.

Examples of the Word in Context

Another excellent way to learn a word and apply it to your own vocabulary is to hear it used properly.  Reading it or hearing a word used in its correct context is a great way to learn how to use it yourself.  Here are some common examples of the word adaptor in context:

  • Do you happen to have a power adaptor for my laptop to plug into this monitor?
  • The USB-C hub allows you to have multiple adaptors for this computer.
  •  Susan is a great adaptor, its only her second week on the job and she already has the hang of it.

Is Adapter Different?

You may have seen the word spelled both ways and wondered if they have different meanings. It is very common for words in America to vary slightly from the way people in the UK spell something. In America, the word adapter is more common, and in the UK adaptor is preferred. 

Some people say that you can distinguish these two words by their meaning, but in truth, they mean the same thing. It is not widely observed, but the word adapter is more often used when referring to a person, and adaptor is used when referring to a mechanical device.

However, both words are used interchangeably throughout the English speaking world in all contexts. 

According to WritingExplained.org, “If you want to play it safe in your writing, use adapter in all cases. As Fowler’s notes, that is the most common spelling for both meanings all throughout the English-speaking world. Sticking to this spelling is the best way to keep your audience’s attention on your message, rather than your word choice.”

Neither version of the word adapter are technically one nationality or the other, it is simply a region-based preference. You will see both words occasionally used no matter where you go.

Other Words That Have Changed Spellings

There are plenty of variances in the way Americans spell words that were borrowed and modified from British English. Often the American version of the word drops a “u” or changes an “re” ending to “er”. This was just a preference Americans had when forming their own adaption of the language. For example, the word “colour” in British English became “color” in American English. Or the word “metre” became “meter” in America. 

In Summary

It can be difficult to keep track of the variations of the word adapter when it has multiple definitions and multiple spellings. Learning languages can often pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.  Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn.  From complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply…in short, grammar is difficult.

At the end of the day, the words adapter/adaptor are interchangeable and it is more of a region-based preference. So you can’t really mess this one up when using it in any form of written communication. Neither is considered to be more correct than the other.

By reaching the end of this article, you should be prepared to use the word of the day adapter in any context, written or spoken.  

If you need further clarification in any sort of academic environment, just reach out to your teacher or professor who is a true grammarist. 

Sources:

1. https://writingexplained.org/adapter-vs-adaptor-difference#:~:text=Possible%20Distinctions,some%20people%20claim%20the%20opposite)
2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adapter
3.https://www.etymonline.com/word/adapter#etymonline_v_40639
4.https://thewordcounter.com/was-vs-were/
5.https://thewordcounter.com/is-vs-are/
6. https://thewordcounter.com/has-vs-have/