Adapt vs. Adopt—What is the difference?

Adapt and adopt are two verbs that sound similar but have completely different meanings. No wonder they easily make for the most commonly confused words! Let us decipher the subtleties of these words so that you can make the correct word choice and be confident of delivering clear and concise writing consistently.

When is adapt used? 

Adapt is used either when a change is made to make something more suitable for a particular use or when adjusting to a new place. In literature and film, adapt is used to show that a book or play has been made by modifying a piece of work of another genre or medium. For instance,

  • The cosmetics are adapted to suit all skin types.
  • I adapted myself to the new work environment very quickly.
  • George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones was adapted for television.

When is adopt used? 

Adopt is used when something is taken over, chosen, accepted or approved by choice. For instance,

  • I always adopt healthy eating habits for my well-being. 

The company adopted new HR policies for a better work culture.

Adopt is also a term used to legally take a child home as a part of the family. For instance,

  • He decided to adopt Sam and raise him as his child. 

Now that you know when to use adapt and adopt¸ let’s answer another important question.

How to use adapt and adopt correctly in academic writing?

While adapt can be transitive or intransitive which means it may or may not have reference to a direct object, ‘adopt’ will always be transitive and have a reference to a direct object.

Here is an example unique to academic and technical writing for a better understanding.

Incorrect: We adapted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution for our study. 

Correct: We adopted Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution for our study.

So, you can finally strike off adapt and adopt from your list of ‘confusing words’ and brace yourself for the appreciation for using the most commonly confused words correctly always!

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