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From Middle English substituten, from Latin substitutus, past participle of substituō.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈsʌbstɪtʃuːt/, /ˈsʌbstɪtjuːt/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈsʌbstɪtut/, /ˈsʌbstɪtjut/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: sub‧sti‧tute
  • Rhymes: -uːt


substitute (third-person singular simple present substitutes, present participle substituting, simple past and past participle substituted)

  1. (transitive) To use in place of something else, with the same function.
    I had no shallots so I substituted onion.
  2. (transitive, in the phrase "substitute X for Y") To use X in place of Y.
    I had to substitute new parts for the old ones.
  3. (transitive, formerly proscribed, in the phrase "substitute X with/by Y") To use Y in place of X; to replace X with Y.
    I had to substitute old parts with the new ones.
  4. (transitive, sports) To remove (a player) from the field of play and bring on another in his place.
    He was playing poorly and was substituted after twenty minutes
    • 2011 April 11, Phil McNulty, “Liverpool 3 - 0 Man City”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      Mario Balotelli replaced Tevez but his contribution was so negligible that he suffered the indignity of being substituted himself as time ran out, a development that encapsulated a wretched 90 minutes for City and boss Roberto Mancini.
  5. (intransitive) To serve as a replacement (for someone or something).
    • 1987, James Tobin, Essays in Economics, Vol. 2, page 75:
      Accumulation of wealth by this route may substitute for personal saving.

Usage notes[edit]

The verb "to substitute" can be used transitively in two opposite ways. "To substitute X" may mean either "use X in place of something else" (as in definitions 1 and 2), or "use something else in place of X" (as in definitions 3 and 4). The latter use is more recent, but it is widespread and now generally accepted (see the COED's note on the matter). However, if the indirect object (the "something else") is omitted, the preposition is also omitted, and the reader or hearer cannot tell which sense is meant:

  • "Substitute butter for olive oil" = Use butter instead of olive oil
  • "Substitute butter with olive oil" = Use olive oil instead of butter
  • "Substitute butter" = ???


Derived terms[edit]



substitute (plural substitutes)

  1. A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose.
    Synonyms: substituend, surrogate; see also Thesaurus:substitute
    Antonyms: substituend, substituendum
    • 1840 February, Thomas De Quincey, “Theory of Greek Tragedy”, in Leaders in Literature with a Notice of Traditional Errors Affecting Them (De Quincey’s Works; IX), London: James Hogg & Sons, →OCLC, footnote *, page 55:
      Ladies [in William Shakespeare's age], again, universally wore masks as the sole substitute known to our ancestors for the modern parasol; a fact, perhaps, not generally known.
    • 1965, “The Tracks of My Tears”, in Going to a Go-Go, performed by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles:
      Since you left me, if you see me with another girl / Seeming like I'm having fun / Although she may be cute, she's just a substitute / Because you're the permanent one
    • 1997, Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown, spoken by Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson):
      Here we go. AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.
  2. A substitute teacher.
  3. (sports) A player who is available to replace another if the need arises, and who may or may not actually do so.
    • 2011 November 3, David Ornstein, “Macc Tel-Aviv 1 - 2 Stoke”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      Dean Whitehead opened the scoring shortly after the break with a low finish and substitute Peter Crouch sealed the win with a tap-in.
  4. (historical) One who enlists for military service in the place of a conscript.
  5. (economics) Abbreviation of substitute good.

Derived terms[edit]






  1. vocative masculine singular of substitūtus