- One that takes the place of another: finding substitutes for coal; came in as a substitute at the end of the game.
- Grammar A word or construction used in place of another word, phrase, or clause.
verbsub·sti·tut·ed, sub·sti·tut·ing, sub·sti·tutes
- To put or use (a person or thing) in place of another: substituted plastic for steel to reduce the weight.
- Usage Problem To replace: substituted the worn-out couch with a new one; original artworks that were substituted by fakes.
To take the place of another: “Only art can substitute for nature” ( Leonard Bernstein )
Origin of substitute
Middle English from
Old French substitut from
Latin substitūtus past participle of substituere to substitute sub- in place of
; see sub-
. statuere to cause to stand
; see stā-
in Indo-European roots.
Usage Note: When you describe an action in which you remove one item and put a different item in its place, it's important to clearly identify which item is taking the place of the other. The verbs usually used for this kind of action are replace and substitute, which have converse meanings: if you take away an old thing and put a new thing in its place, you are replacing the old thing with the new thing, or substituting the new thing for the old thing. In the passive voice, old is replaced with new, or new is substituted for old. Sometimes, however, people switch the placement of old and new when using the verb substitute, especially in the passive voice. For example, in a low-calorie recipe that uses applesauce (the new thing) instead of butter (the old thing), the two standard constructions are Butter is replaced with applesauce or Applesauce is substituted for butter. But people sometimes say Butter is substituted by [or with ] applesauce. This use of substitute is widely criticized, and most of the Usage Panel dislikes it: in our 2013 survey, 80 percent disapproved of this sentence with the preposition by, and 67 percent disapproved of it with with. In sports, however, one often encounters the less standard use of substitute, where the old player is substituted for the new one rather than vice versa. The Usage Panel is more accepting of such usage in this context; in 2013, just over half the Panel (56 percent) disapproved of the sentence The goalie allowed three goals in the first 12 minutes and was substituted before the end of the period. Unless you are discussing sports, adhering to the traditional constructions will make your writing clearer: replace the old with the new; substitute the new for the old.
(third-person singular simple present substitutes, present participle substituting, simple past and past participle substituted)
- To use in place of something else, with the same function.
- I had no shallots so I substituted onion.
- In the phrase "substitute X for Y", to use X in place of Y.
- I had to substitute new parts for the old ones.
- In the phrase "substitute X with/by Y", to use Y in place of X.
- I had to substitute old parts with the new ones.
- (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
- (intransitive) To serve as a replacement (for someone or something)
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).
- A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose.
- (sports) A player who is available to replace another if the need arises, and who may or may not actually do so.
- (historical) One who enlists for military service in the place of a conscript.
From Latin substitutum, past participle of substituo.