I'm writing a formal paper and have a section about the process of adapting a model to a new situation.

Should I title the section model adaption or model adaptation?

I'm rather confused by the difference between the two words. I am inclined to use adaption but I don't know why.

  • Pretty much any dictionary will tell you that adaption is just a variant of adaptation. Only use adaption if it's a term of art in your particular field. Jul 28, 2011 at 14:01
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    @JSBangs: Few dictionaries will clarify that adaption is just a variant of adaptation as opposed to adaptation is just a variant of adaption. None of mine, certainly. You need to know something of existing usage to decide which is the "base" form (if that even means anything). Jul 28, 2011 at 15:43
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    – aedia λ
    Jul 28, 2011 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


The FreeDictionary.com doesn't believe there is a difference between the two. In formal writing, I would prefer "adaptation" (which I can find in the OED) to what looks like a spelling mistake that has been transmuted into a word. More to the point "adaptation" is a variant of adapt that follows the same pattern as, e.g., "expectation" and "expect".


The Shorter OED doesn't give adaption, as @ig0774 says. It'll be in the Complete, though, because it's definitely a valid word. But I certainly agree with others, adaptation is to be preferred.

Exactly the same has happened with adoption and adoptation, except in that case the shorter word became the standard form.

So far as I'm concerned these are (rare) examples of true synonyms. Unsurprising, maybe, since they use very similar (and both legitimate) ways of deriving a noun from a verb. But if we're to consider the smallest of details, it's fair to say that in each case, the less-common form has overtones of long-winded verbosity.

  • I should clarify that I was simply looking at the Shorter OED (not the full version), which does miss a surprising number of words.
    – ig0774
    Jul 28, 2011 at 15:25
  • @ig0774: oic. Well, I expect the Shorter probably doesn't give adoptation either. They're definitely both valid words, but not common enough to be put in dictionaries that are trying to keep the size down. Jul 28, 2011 at 15:37
  • It wasn't really my intention to imply that adaption wasn't a word, though I realize though that my answer sort of implied that. I just meant to point out that adaptation is likely the more common variant. The bit about the "spelling mistake" (which is a gratuitous assumption) was more to do with Latin. Adapt comes from adaptare, which would give adaptat- as the root of it's variant forms. However, adaptare is itself a combination of ad + aptus, which may well be the source of the variation.
    – ig0774
    Jul 28, 2011 at 16:19
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    I'm not really sure that follows. Adaptive seems like it's just the adjectival form of the noun adapt. The suffix -tion in this case, as with expectation indicates a noun derived from a verb form. Etymology, though, is no predictor of common usage. I suppose that makes my whole point kind of moot.
    – ig0774
    Jul 28, 2011 at 16:56
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    +1 on the comment for excellent usage of the word "moot". Which frankly I think the whole question is. I wouldn't have Answered at all except it gave me a chance to flag up the opposite process with "adopt". And I really do feel those two different processes have influenced each other in terms of encouraging a more noticeable distinction between the derived forms. Jul 28, 2011 at 17:06

I think adaptation sounds more appropriate, and is probably used more often than adaption. This might just be my personal preference though, so take it for that.

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