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In French, the verb altérer means change into something worse or degrade. As a non-native English speaker I wonder whether the English verb alter has necessarily this negative meaning or in the contrary, if it is neutral as change or transform.

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Short answer - no, it just means change, not necessarily into something worse –  user13267 Aug 16 '13 at 5:38
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This is a fair question, but one that probably should have been asked at the sister site for English Language Learners. –  J.R. Aug 16 '13 at 8:10
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is generally neutral.

  • "Please alter your attitude." would mean to improve your attitude, by context.
  • "I must remember to alter the path by which I drive to work every day."
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Alter on its own has no positive or negative connotations. For example,

His character altered so much that I could not believe it was him

could mean he changed in a positive way, negative way, or simply a neutral way that made him very different from before.

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The verb alter is often used to describe the process of making changes to clothing in order to improve the fit for a particular customer.

I wonder if native speakers of French avoid such businesses?

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What he said: while most meanings of alter are completely neutral, there is this one meaning which is completely positive. There are no meanings that are negative. –  Marthaª Aug 16 '13 at 1:32
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