Adaption vs. Adaptation

By Maeve Maddox

A reader in the UK who grew up hearing the word adaption used in reference to radio and television programs based on books wonders,

Where did adaptation come from, since there is no verb adaptate?

The earliest OED documentation of the verb adapt is dated 1531. The noun adaptation comes along in 1597, 18 years earlier than adaption (1615).

English has no verb “adaptate,” but the past participle stem of Latin adaptare (to fit, to adapt) is adaptat-. Adaptation came into English from French, with the extra syllable already in place. Adaption looks like a homegrown nominalization of the verb adapt.

The Google Ngram Viewer, which tracks the incidence of words in printed sources from 1800 to 2000, shows adaption running a distant second to adaptation during the entire period.

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

Clearly, adaptation is the standard form of the word meaning, “an altered or amended version of a text, musical composition, etc., especially one adapted for filming, broadcasting, or production on the stage from a novel or similar literary source.”

But although adaptation is the preferred spelling, adaption is in use among English speakers in Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US:

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

Movie Adaption > Popular Movie Adaption Books –categories on Goodreads

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

Lake Bell to Direct Film Adaption of The Emperor’s Children –headline, Time.com

The Broadway musical West Side Story is an adaption of Romeo and Juliet. –article, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

On a page at the BBC News site, adaption occurs in a header, but adaptation is used in the text below it.

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

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4 Responses to “Adaption vs. Adaptation”

  • Petra

    Well, wherever that “reader” grew up, it certainly wasn’t in the UK, where “adaptation” is so overwhelmingly the norm and “adaption” so disappearingly tiny that people would instinctively (having first had their teeth set on edge) want to correct anyone who locally ventured to say or write “adaption”. The only time one hears or sees that used in the UK is in US English (by some but not all USE users) (and certainly not Australia or South African English).

  • venqax

    The fact that there is no verb “adaptate” is thin and unconvincing evidence for “adaption”. There are no verbs convocate, experimentate, examinate, deprivate, or representate, either. The questioner might be asked to explainate why he would expectate such a requirement.

  • Dale A Wood

    Try the terms adaptation and adaption in biology. I prefer the first.
    Ducks have the adaptation of having webbed feet, and wabbits have the adaptation of having long ears.
    What’s up, doc?
    Elmer Fudd

  • Tushar

    @venqax:
    It’s NOT a thin piece of evidence. Out of the examples you gave, only ‘experiment’ and ‘expect’ are proper counters, as they alone are verbs ending in -t. The question is whether or not to add an extra syllable in the noun form of such verbs. The answer depends on the case, and CAN be ‘no’. Case in point: adoption (which became standard, rather than ‘adoptation’). I’d point out more examples but it’s better that you think for yourself.

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