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From Middle French subalterne, from Late Latin subalternus, from Latin sub- + alternus, from alter.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈsʌbəltɚn/
  • (file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /sʌbˈɔltərn/, IPA(key): /ˈsʌbəltɚn/


subaltern (comparative more subaltern, superlative most subaltern)

  1. Of a lower rank or position; inferior or secondary; especially (military) ranking as a junior officer, below the rank of captain.
    a subaltern officer
  2. (logic) Asserting only a part of what is asserted in a related proposition.



subaltern (plural subalterns)

  1. A subordinate.
  2. (Britain) A commissioned officer having a rank below that of captain; a lieutenant or second lieutenant.
    • 1891, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray:
      She was an extraordinarily beautiful girl, Margaret Devereux ; and made all the men frantic by running away with a penniless young fellow ; a mere nobody sir a subaltern in a foot regiment, or something of that kind.
  3. (logic) A subaltern proposition; a proposition implied by a universal proposition. For example, some crows are black is a subaltern of all crows are black.
  4. (social sciences, literary theory) A member of a group that is socially, politically and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure of the colony and of the colonial homeland.
    • 2012, Aparajita De, Amrita Ghosh, Ujjwal Jana, Subaltern Vision: A Study in Postcolonial Indian English Text (page 109)
      In Ghosh's novel, a canonical western scientist is pitted against a counterscientific group of native folk-medicine practitioners led by Mangala, a subaltern in every conceivable meaning of the term.


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From French subalterne


subaltern m (plural subalterni)

  1. underling, subordinate