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Adaption or Adaptation?

A fellow student in my high school English class who grew up in the UK hearing the word adaption used when referring to radio and television programs based on books asked a question in class one day that stuck with me.

Where did the word adaptation come from, since there is no such verb as adaptate?

The earliest Oxford English Dictionary documentation of the verb adapt dates back to 1531. The noun adaptation came along in 1597, which was 18 years earlier than adaption (1615).

In English there is no verb “adaptate,” but the past participle stem of Latin adaptare meaning to fit or to adapt, is adaptat-. Adaptation camefrom French to English, with the extra syllable already in place. Adaption looks like a homegrown affixation of the verb adapt.

Routinely used in research, the Google Ngram Viewer, which tracks the incidence of words in printed sources from 1800 to 2000, shows adaption coming in as a distant second to adaptation during the entire period.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a brief entry for adaption, prefaced by the notation “Now nonstandard.”

Adaptation is the standard style of the word which means, “an altered or amended rendering of a text or musical composition, especially one adapted for broadcasting, filming, or production on the stage from a novel or other literary source.”

Even though adaptation is the preferred spelling, adaption is used among English speakers in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK:

The Snow Queen: A Pop-Up Adaption of a Classic Fairytale Hardcover –Publication date: 2013.


Why book-to-film adaption soundtracks need to fit with the original book –headline from The Guardian


The Broadway musical West Side Story is a modern adaption of Romeo and Juliet –article in The Globe and Mail (Canada)


Lake Bell Will Direct Film Adaption of The Emperor’s Children –headline from an article on


In a story on the BBC News site, adaption occurs in a headline but adaptation is used in the text below it.

Summary: Some writers in the English-speaking world continue to use adaption as an alternative spelling of adaptation, but adaptation is the preferred standard form.

Related: We have a slew of articles on similar sounding words such as this one: Is it purposely or purposefully? 

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By Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business writing and marketing. She holds a bachelor's degree in media and journalism and has contributed to a slew of printed and online media, including Contra Costa Times, Daily American, the The Tri-Town News,, and many more.

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