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A supernumerary finger (adjective sense 2.1)[n 1]

From Late Latin supernumerarius (extra soldier added to a legion; supernumerary), from super (above; beyond) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₁eǵʰs (out of) + *uperi (above), from *upo (below, under)) + numerum (accusative singular of numerus (number; collection, quantity), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *nem- (to distribute; to give, take)) + -ārius (suffix forming adjectives from nouns or numerals).[1] The word is analysable as super- +‎ numeral +‎ -ary.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˌsuːpəˈnjuːm(ə)ɹ(ə)ɹi/
    • (file)
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˌsupɚˈn(j)uməˌɹɛɹi/
  • Hyphenation: su‧per‧nu‧mer‧a‧ry, su‧per‧nu‧mer‧ary


supernumerary (plural supernumeraries)

  1. A person who works in a group, association, or public office without forming part of the regular staff (the numerary). [from early 17th c.]
    The judge was a supernumerary, helping the regular judges whenever there was a surplus amount of work.
    • 1844, chapter VI, in The Queen’s Regulations for the Government of Her Majesty’s Naval Service, London: Printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street, for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, OCLC 797586019, § I (Royal Marines when Embarked), paragraph 1, page 182:
      The Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Bombardiers, Fifers, Gunners, Private Men, and Boys of the Royal Marines belonging to Her Majesty's Ships or Vessels, whether entered on the Ship's Books as part of the complement, or borne as supernumeraries, except when borne for a passage for service on shore, shall be considered entitled to the same advantages as the rest of the Ship's Company.
    • 1847 July 12, Josiah Forshall, interviewee, “Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Constitution and Management, &c., of the British Museum”, in Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Constitution and Government of the British Museum; with Minutes of Evidence: Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, London: Printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street, for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, published 1850, OCLC 4623153, page 26:
      What are the supernumeraries? upon whose report are they employed?— [] [I]f it is temporary employment, or for a temporary situation only, as occasion may require, such as the supernumeraries’ situations, for instance, these are looked upon as temporary appointments, although, from the great increase in our business, they have been in some respects permanent.
    • 1856 September, “Promotions and Appointments. [War Department, Aug. 1.]”, in Colburn’s United Service Magazine, and Naval and Military Journal, part III, London: Hurst and Blackett, publishers, (successors to Henry Colburn), [], OCLC 1017142186, page 169, column 1:
      Hospital Staff.—To be Assistant Surgeons to the Forces. – Assistant Surgeons Angus John Mackay, Supernumerary in the 1st Foot; Albert Hawkins, Supernumerary in the 4th Foot; []
    • 1942 July-August, T. F. Cameron, “How the Staff of a Railway is Recruited”, in Railway Magazine, page 206:
      After this general training the apprentices are usually employed for a year or two as supernumeraries, being engaged to a large extent on special enquiries, a type of work well suited to rounding off their training and also to assisting both the company and the men to ascertain the type of work for which they are best suited.
  2. (film, theater) An extra or walk-on, often non-speaking, in a film or play; a spear carrier.
    Synonyms: supe, super
    • 1983, H[endrik] B[rugt] G[erhard] Casimir, “Introduction”, in Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science (A Sloan Foundation Book), New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row, →ISBN; republished Amsterdam: Amsterdam Academic Archive, Amsterdam University Press, 2010, →ISBN, page 1:
      [A] minor actor or supernumerary often has a better opportunity to watch great actors than the great actors themselves.
    • 2009, West T. Hill, Jr., “The First Western Circuit”, in The Theatre in Early Kentucky 1790–1820, paperback edition, Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, →ISBN, page 72:
      Though little is known about Noble Luke Usher before his first recorded performance in Washingon, D.C., in 1800, it is certain that he made the rounds of the eastern theatres as a supernumerary before as well as after that year.
  3. Something which is beyond the prescribed or standard amount or number.
    • 1850, Mary Howitt, “Little Coin, Much Care: Or, How Poor Men Live”, in Popular Moral Tales for the Young, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Co., [], OCLC 17791855, chapter I (How Mr. Bartram Let Two of His Houses, and What Sort of Tenants He Had), page 12:
      On each side the glass hung one of the large engravings; another over the secretary, facing the window, and the fourth, which for some time seemed a supernumerary, over the door.
    • 2013, Clifford O. Dummett, Jr.; Sarat Thikkurissy, “Anomalies of the Developing Dentition”, in Paul S. Casamassimo, Dennis J. McTigue, Henry W. Fields, Jr., and Arthur J. Nowak, editors, Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence, 5th edition, St. Louis, Mo.: Saunders, Elsevier, →ISBN, page 55, column 2:
      Ideally, the surgery is timed so that removal of the supernumerary tooth does not interfere with permanent tooth development. The earlier the supernumerary can be removed, however, the more likely it is that the permanent teeth will erupt normally. Surgery to remove a supernumerary is often complicated, especially if there are multiple supernumerary teeth or if access to the supernumerary tooth is limited. These patients are appropriately referred to a specialist.
  4. (zoology) An animal which has not formed a pair bond and is therefore single.
    • 1996–2005, W[illiam] D[onald] Hamilton, “Sorority Avenue: Altruism and Related Phenomena, Mainly in Social Insects”, in Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W. D. Hamilton, volume 1 (Evolution of Social Behaviour), Houndmills, Basingstoke; New York, N.Y.: W. H. Freeman and Company, →ISBN, page 278:
      The best evidence so far that social supernumeraries are physically capable of bettering their lot concerns not rodents but birds.
    • 2004, Andrew Cockburn, “Mating Systems and Sexual Conflict”, in Walter D. Koenig and Janis L. Dickinson, editors, Ecology and Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Birds, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 88, column 1:
      There are differences in the composition of the social group [of certain birds] such as whether one or more sex provides help, and the stability of the associations between supernumeraries and the dominant breeders.
  5. (Roman Catholicism) A married man or woman who is a secular member of Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic religious institution.

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supernumerary (not comparable)

  1. Greater in number than.
    • 1855, Chas. A. Schott, “[Appendix] Adjustment of Horizontal Angles of a Triangulation”, in Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1854, Washington, D.C.: Beverley Tucker, public printer, OCLC 702331669, page 76:
      This method applies to the observation of angles, usually obtained by repetitions; and instead of equating directions, as in the first method, its object is to furnish the most probable values for the several observed angles from a supernumerary number of angles.
  2. Beyond the prescribed or standard amount or number; excess, extra.
    Synonym: epactal
    1. (biology, specifically) Of an organ or structure: additional to what is normally present.
      Synonym: supranumerary
      a supernumerary nipple; a supernumerary tooth
      • 1865, John Lindley, “Letter XXIX. The Mignonette Tribe—Disk—The Caper Tribe.”, in Ladies’ Botany: Or A Familiar Introduction to the Study of the Natural System of Botany. [...] In Two Volumes, volume II, 6th edition, London: Henry G[eorge] Bohn, [], OCLC 81091081, page 38:
        It [the term disk] means a supernumerary organ, different from the stamens or petals, and originating at the base of one or other of them. Nothing can well be more variable in its nature than this disk; in the Mignonette it is, as you see, a one-sided, hairy lobe; []
      • 1948 August, Aldous Huxley, “The Script”, in Ape and Essence, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, OCLC 248417; republished as Ape and Essence: A Novel, London: Chatto & Windus, 1949, OCLC 878326393, page 74:
        The Camera pulls back for a longer shot. Forty or fifty women, half of them with shaven heads, are sitting on the stairs, among the refuse on the floor, on the tattered remains of ancient beds and sofas. Each of them is nursing a baby, all the babies are ten weeks old, and all those belonging to shaven mothers are deformed. Over close-ups of little faces with hare lips, little trunks with stumps instead of legs and arms, little hands with clusters of supernumerary fingers, little bodies adorned with a double row of nipples, we hear the voice of the Narrator.
      • 1995, William M. Thurlbeck, “Lung Growth and Development”, in William M. Thurlbeck and Andrew M. Churg, editors, Pathology of the Lung, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Thieme Medical Publishers; Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag, →ISBN, page 45:
        There are two types of pulmonary arteries: conventional arteries that accompany airways and branch with them, and supernumerary arteries, which branch off the conventional ones at right angles and supply airspaces immediately adjacent to the bronchovascular tree.
      • 2014, William Gibson, “Death Cookie”, in The Peripheral, Penguin:
        “Their aesthetic, if you haven't noticed, is about benign skin cancers, supernumerary nipples. Conventional tattoos belong firmly among the iconics of the hegemon. []
  3. Beyond what is necessary; redundant.
    Synonyms: superfluous, unnecessary, unneeded, unwanted



  1. ^ From Joseph C. Hughes (September 1897), “Supernumerary Finger Growing from First Metacarpal Bone”, in James Moores Ball, editor, Tri-State Medical Journal and Practitioner, volume IV, issue 9, St. Louis, Mo.: [s.n.] 3509 Franklin Avenue, OCLC 50364530, figure 2, page 436.


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