(1)   Artificial and inferior
"Ersatz coffee"
"Substitute coffee"


(2)   A person or thing that takes or can take the place of another
(3)   Someone who takes the place of another (as when things get dangerous or difficult)
"The star had a stand-in for dangerous scenes"
"We need extra employees for summer fill-ins"
(4)   An athlete who plays only when a starter on the team is replaced


(5)   Put in the place of another; switch seemingly equivalent items
"The con artist replaced the original with a fake Rembrandt"
"Substitute regular milk with fat-free milk"
(6)   Be a substitute
"The young teacher had to substitute for the sick colleague"
"The skim milk substitutes for cream--we are on a strict diet"
(7)   Act as a substitute
"She stood in for the soprano who suffered from a cold"


  1. To use in place of something else, with the same function.
    I had no shallots so I substituted onion.
  2. 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. 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.
  4. 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
  5. To serve as a replacement (for someone or something)
    • 1987, James Tobin, Essays in Economics, Vol. 2, p. 75
      Accumulation of wealth by this route may substitute for personal saving.

Usage notes

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 has been considered incorrect by some, but it is widespread and now generally accepted (see COED note).


  1. A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose.
  2. A player who is available to replace another if the need arises, and who may or may not actually do so.