I was wondering if there is a word in English to describe a person fulfilling another's role, albeit not as proficient.


There is a phrase, a poor second that conveys some aspect of this concept

a long way behind the winner in a race, competition etc. My horse came in a poor second

Also consider the B-Team

A second-rate problem-solving team sent in because more qualified personnel (the "A-Team") are unavailable or unwilling to deal with a given problem. This is often because the A-Team sees said problem as being beneath them or unworthy of their talents.


Also consider some of the following.
understudy, “a performer who understudies; a standby”. One sense of the verb understudy is “to study or know a role to such an extent as to be able to replace the normal performer when required”. Understudy usually refers to a substitute less capable than the normal performer, but sometimes the understudy is quite capable.
stand-in (already mentioned in other answers) means “A person of similar size and shape to an actor that "stands-in" for the actor during the lengthy process of setting up a shot, who, unlike a double, does not appear in the film” and ordinarily is a person less talented than the actual performer.
deputy, “One appointed as the substitute of another, and empowered to act for him, in his name or his behalf; a substitute in office...”
substitute, “A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose” and “A player who is available to replace another if the need arises, and who may or may not actually do so”
ersatz, (previously mentioned in comments) “Something made in imitation; an effigy or substitute”
knockoff, “An imitation of something, particularly a well-known product, usually lower in quality and price than the original”
wannabe, “Someone who wishes to be or do something, but lacks the qualifications or talent; an overeager amateur; an aspirant”; also would be

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    +1 for understudy - implying competence but not the same level of skill as the person for whom they substitute. You could make it derogatory but it isn't inherently. – Chris H Sep 6 '13 at 15:43


Something less negatively sounding might perhaps be just substitute.

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    Ersatz. But only if you pronounce it as in German: /'ɛrzats/, to rhyme with English rare pots. – John Lawler Sep 6 '13 at 1:33
  • +1 @JohnLawler= but now you've got me curious, what other pronunciation is there? – Jim Sep 6 '13 at 2:21
  • Ersatz is the first thing that came to my mind too. – Bradd Szonye Sep 6 '13 at 3:36
  • How is a surrogate an inferior substitute? If anything, in case of a surrogate mother, it is when the initial person for the role of the mother can't do it for biological or other reasons. – Keni Jun 6 '14 at 16:30

A "Stand-in" may be applicable. "Stand-in" applies that the person is a temporary measure and thus they are not the ideal person for the job.


You could call the person a second-stringer. It's a term borrowed from athletics but people use it in non-athletic contexts. Second string refers to players who are used as alternates (for sports that use alternates). There's less of a negative connotation. They can be good players, but usually not as good as the first string.


I like backup for a person and generic for a product.



stopgap: someone or something that is intended to be used for a short time and then replaced by someone or something better

makeshift: a usually crude and temporary expedient: substitute

quick-fix: an expedient usually temporary or inadequate solution to a problem

fill-in: someone who takes the place of another person who is away for a short time: someone who fills in for someone else

pinch hitter: any substitute for anything, esp. in an emergency

body double: a movie actor that substitutes for a leading performer, especially in distance shots or scenes not involving the face, such as close-ups of a portion of the body

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