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Adaption vs. adaptation

Adaption and adaptation are different forms of the same word, and they share all their meanings, which include (1) the act of changing to suit new conditions, and (2) a work of art recast in a new form or medium. But the longer word, adaptation, is preferred by most publications and is much more common. Adaption is not completely absent, but it usually gives way to the longer form in edited writing. 

Both forms are old. The OED lists examples of adaption from as long ago as the early 17th century. Adaptation is just a little older, having come to English from French in the middle 16th century. Adaption has never been the preferred form, though, and in fact has grown less common relative to adaptation over the centuries.

It’s possible that some English speakers now view adaptation and adaption as separate words each with their own uses, but any such emerging differentiation is not yet borne out in general usage. For now, at least, adaption always bears replacement with the more common form.

Ngram

This ngram, which graphs the use of adaption and adaptation in a large number English-language books and magazines published in the 19th and 20th centuries, shows that there is no contest:

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the explanation. What I find odd though is that the verb is “to adapt”, not “to adaptate”. From that perspective, “adaption” would make more sense, wouldn’t it?

  2. SimonXML says:

    create => creation

    relate => relation

    narrate => narration
    inflate => inflation

    but

    adapt => adaptation

    I was brought up to use adaption; adapTAtion is one of those pretentious pseudo-intellectual elongations so typical of US marketing types. Low editorial standards indeed; rather admit that adaptation is a vulgar outdated form that ignores grammar and consistency.

    • Simon,

      Language is a funny thing. It is laced with inconsistency and idiom – especially English.

      Here’s a point you overlook:

      The examples on your list (above the “but”) all end in “ate” and become “ation”. Similar constructrions would apply to Rotate, Demonstrate, Separate, and so on.

      However, some verbs like Adapt – as well as Orient, Document, Ferment, and so on – take on the “ation” construction (that is they add the full five letters rather than dropping the final “e” and adding “ion”).

      The data in the graph goes back to 1800, so… you might want to rethink your diatribe re: “pretentious pseudo-intellectual elongations so typical of US marketing types”… unless you think that we should all use Oriention, Documention, and Fermention, so as to not come under your wrath.

      Sorry that you were brought up to use Adaption, but you’re clearly in the minority that goes back over 200 years.

      – Todd

      • Irwell Pete says:

        Oh well, I’m now adaptating my spell-checker accordingly – learning to adaptate to the ever changing funny thing called English.
        But, being British and born in England, I say adaption over here – sorry for speaking my own language correctly. :)

        • “Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control” Jeffrey Gitomer

        • Preston Jared says:

          Speaking a language “correctly” has nothing to do with where you’re from, no matter how many disgusting emoticons you include.

          aesthetic phonetics != scientific linguistics

          :(

      • not ted danson says:

        Todd 1, Simon 0

    • ArthurSparknottle says:

      Arsehole! The word is adaptation. End of.

    • disqus_ZkNVyz0hWs says:

      Dear Simon,
      You’re forgetting that these words are originally french. They remain the exact same in french nowadays and still mean the same too. And french is a total hell for grammar and consistency!

    • not ted danson says:

      This comment is pseudo-intellectual.

  3. I’m an exercise physiologist. In science we use “adaptation” to describe the process undertaken to create an “adaption”. Might I venture to suggest that “adaptation” is a nominalisation of “adaption”?

    • Thanks for your insight! We’ll look closer at this for our next revision of this post.

    • C Nelson says:

      Wouldn’t that be exactly reversed? A nominalisation is a noun form of a verb; if the adaptation is the process (action) and the adaption the result, then adaption would have to be a nominalisation of adaptation, not the other way around.

  4. I recognize that I and my fellow users of adaption are in the minority, but, sorry, it still sounds unnecessarily complex (and a bit pretentious) to me. Todd almost had me with his Orient, Document and Ferment series until I realized that they all end in “ent” which adapt does not. For now, I’ll cling to “adaption” unless forced to drop it by editorial insistence.

    • If adaption sounds better to your ear, then you should use adaption. But there’s no reason for a word ending in -ation to be necessarily pretentious. There’s plenty of words that gain an “a” in the transition from verb to noun. Todd gave three examples from words ending in -ent: orientation, documentation, and fermentation. There’s many other examples from base words that don’t end in -ent:

      Tempt –> Temptation
      Consult –> Consultation
      Expect –> Expectation
      Recite –> Recitation
      Invoke –> Invocation
      Refute –> Refutation
      Excite –> Excitation
      Derive –> Derivation

      Granted, none of these words end in -apt like adapt does. I couldn’t think of another word ending in -apt that has a noun form ending in -tion. In terms of words ending in -pt, I found examples both ways. It’s tempt –> temptation but exempt –> exemption.

      The moral of the story, I suppose, is that English never has one rule where ten will do. Sometimes you form a noun by adding -tion and sometimes by adding -ation. Either is a well established rule in English; it just depends on the word. There’s lots of little irregular groups of words following far more obscure rules than these. For example: resume –> resumption, redeem –> redemption, assume –> assumption.

      I think one could make a case for either adaption or adaptation. Neither ending is particularly irregular in English. I generally use adaptation because it sounds more natural to me, probably because I hear it more often. I can see the streamlined appeal of adaption, but that doesn’t make adaptation inferior in any way. They’re equally correct.

  5. My parents and schools were quite careful about correcting common misuses of English, and since the advent of the internet and the ‘grammar nazi’ I’ve been lucky enough to find myself on the right side of just about every debate on particular spellings and whatnot.

    But I had never even heard of ‘adaptation’ as an equivalent for ‘adaption’ until the movie ‘Adaptation’ was released several years ago.

    As another commenter notes, ‘adapTAtion’ is a process, while ‘adaption’ is the thing that results from it. I am sure it’s perfectly possible for the word to have both meanings itself, but it’s just something I had never even heard of before that damn movie came out. Since then, I’ve noticed it being used more and more and I always thought it was the movie that started the whole trend.

    So, now I discover that I’m wrong, and have been wrong since 150 years before my birth. Great.

    What is most frustrating is not being wrong – I’m wrong about one thing or another several times a day – but that the ‘correct’ spelling just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    I’m not bothered particularly by ‘rules’ about suffixes and such, as Simon and Todd raised and countered. That kind of analysis is useful but ultimately inconclusive, because English isn’t Latin, and the ‘rules’ are broken by many hundreds of well-known and uncontroversial words. And other suffixes such as ‘-ing’ can be used to imply different rules anyway.

    I’m more bothered by the difference between the process and the end result, which Tim pointed out. A sentence where the longer spelling is used for both the process *and* the end result could easily read like word salad.

    So, despite the popularity of the longer spelling, I am going to keep using the shorter one for my own writing, just because it makes the end result easier to read. Until someone with leverage tells me otherwise :)

  6. Sam Punter says:

    I’m from England, and I was raised to use Adaption as – to adapt, and Adaptation as- a change that happened through Adapting. -eg. a primates adaptation is a thumb to peel fruits. (used in the term of adapting through evolution, or adapting to a situation, like being stranded on an island, where in that instance, the adaptation would be developing primal, animalistic methods of survival.)

  7. radicallyalyssa says:

    The word isn’t “adaptate.” Now that I have read this, I will go back to “adaption,” thank you very much.

  8. C Nelson says:

    Forgive me; I know this discussion is *old*, but I hope you can clarify something for me. I’m having a rather frustrating discussion with a family member who believes that your statement, “Adaption is not completely absent, but it usually gives way to the longer form in edited writing” means that “adaption” is the more correct form in the context of discussing a movie. His contention is that you did not mean that an editor would generally change adaption to adaptation in *all* contexts as part of the editing process because adaptation is the better usage, but that you meant “edited writing” to be prescriptive, with adaptation being reserved to the context of written works such as schoolbooks, magazines, and the like.

  9. The grammar guy says:

    all the examples you have listed have ended in ‘e’ whereas adapt does not, and besides, adaptation is the correct form of the word and is older.

  10. It doesn’t need a rule – there are two versions and they’re both valid. I’m adaptable enough to use either, according to how well either scans in its context. It is true, however, that I tend to prefer ‘adaption’.

    Spelling is moot. There is only one rule that needs observing – is the meaning clear?

    And popularity be damned!

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