Adapt and Adopt

Woman and young boy outside school

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The words adapt and adopt may sound similar, but their meanings are different.

The verb adapt means to change something to make it suitable for a particular use or situation; to change something (such as a novel) so that it can be presented in another form (such as a movie); or (for a person) to change one's ideas or behavior so that it's easier to deal with a particular place or situation.

The verb adopt means to take something and make it one's own; to legally take a child into one's family to raise as one's own; or to formally accept something (such as a proposal) and put it into effect.

In The Dirty Thirty (2003), D. Hatcher and L. Goddard offer this mnemonic: "To adopt something is to make it your own; to adapt something is to change it." Also see the usage notes below.

Examples

  • Anonymous
    The key to success is often the ability to adapt.
  • Tennesse Williams
    My sister had been magically suited to the wild country of childhood but it remained to be seen how she would adapt herself to the uniform and yet more complex world that grown girls enter.
  • Vanessa Hua
    Before I'd become a parent, I'd been so certain, self-righteous about how I’d raise my children, how they’d eat, sleep and learn, but I’d been humbled. We had to adapt, to be flexible and creative, not only for their development, but for mine, too.
  • David Barnett
    [Neil] Gaiman is the author of several novels and short stories currently being adapted for TV and cinema. His debut novel, American Gods, is being turned into a TV series by the US channel Starz.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.
  • Harold Brookfield and Helen Parsons
    It was a common practice in Japan for a family without male heirs to adopt a son-in-law who would then inherit whatever the family owned, and its debts.

    Usage Notes

    • Paul Brians
      You can adopt a child or a custom or a law; in these cases you are making the object of the adoption your own, accepting it. If you adapt something, however, you are changing it.
    • Theodore M. Bernstein
      Adapted takes the preposition to (a use); for (a purpose); or from.

    Practice

    • (a) We need to _____ to changing circumstances.
    • (b) My sister and her husband plan to _____ a child from another country.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    • (a) We need to adapt to changing circumstances.
    • (b) My sister and her husband plan to adopt a child from another country.