When you replace somebody with somebody else, does it refer to a permanent change usually for a better one?

In "The company replaced Alice with a new secretary", does it refer to a permanent change?

What about substitute? When you substitute somebody for somebody else, is this change permanent or temporary? Like in a game when the coach substitutes a player for another?

I know you can say "The teacher was sick, so Jane substituted for her", and it means Jane is supposed to do the teacher's job until she's able to do it herself again.

Can you also use the structure with two objects to say that we put someone in the place of someone else temporarily until they can do it themselves again, in a sentence like "The teacher was sick so the school substituted Jane for her"?

  • you've already got it. replaced does give a more permanent feeling, while substitute not so much.
    – Mou某
    Dec 21, 2014 at 11:34
  • 1
    @user3306356 I agreee substitute seems more temporary (as I think of football substitutes or substitute teachers). This site reckons they just mean the same thing from different POV though If you substitute B for A, then you replace A by B i.e. "The school substituted Jane for Jill" = "The school replaced Jill by Jane" Dec 21, 2014 at 12:05
  • @MartinSmith -Can we also use 'with' instead of 'by' in your sentence? And also does this sentence make sense to you? "It was the few last minutes of the game that James substituted for Smith"? Dec 21, 2014 at 12:21
  • @MartinSmith - The use of 'substitute' as a verb in sports (and perhaps for teachers) has a different derivation; basically a back construction of using a substitute player. It is my hypothesis that this is what has led to the sloppy nondirectional usage of 'substitute' prevalent today.
    – Dustin G
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:04

1 Answer 1


These verbs both mean to put someone or something in the place of another. To replace is to be or to furnish an equivalent or substitute, especially for one that has been lost, depleted, worn out, or discharged:

To replace:

to provide a substitute for (something broken or unsatisfactory, for example) - AHDEL

To substitute:

To put or use (a person or thing) in place of another - AHDEL

While the two are synonyms, replace does carry a stronger connotation of being long-term.

The etymology of substitute, particularly the prefix "sub" may suggest why it has a weaker connotation of being permanent:


late Middle English (denoting a deputy or delegate):

from Latin substitutus 'put in place of',

past participle of substituere,

sub 'under + statuere 'set up'.

Substitute is rendered from it's Latin origin: "set up under"


1 At, to, or from a lower level or position:


1.1 Lower in rank:



Although permanent replacement is CURRENTLY an acceptable use of substitute, it's original use was closer to "deputy". A substitute would stand in for the principle as a duputy:

  • a deputy "replaces" the sheriff who ordered him to execute the warrant
  • the corporate vice-president "replaces" the president who is out of town
  • margarine "replaces" butter when it is not available
  • a temp "replaces" the secretary while she is on vacation

Each of those "replacements" is temporary because the principal remains available "above" her substitute.

Edited to add: As @John Lawler points out, they are the same but serve opposite rhetorical functions: he replaced 'old' with 'new'; he substituted 'new' for 'old'.

  • 1
    @ScotM - Wow! Thank you for that edit! (Now if we could split the rep...) :D Dec 22, 2014 at 4:11
  • 1
    I'm already a legend in my own mind, @Medica. What others think of me is a trifle ;) Besides, you upgraded one of my earlier successful answers. Turnabout's fair play!
    – ScotM
    Dec 22, 2014 at 4:19
  • 3
    Replace and substitute do mean the same thing, but in opposite directions. In each case, there is a New and an Old, but the patterns go like this: He replaced Old with New = He substituted New for Old. Having two verbs lets you use either order, to suit your rhetorical purposes. Dec 22, 2014 at 4:36
  • 1
    @JohnLawler - hmm, that's very interesting. I couldn't have put it like that, but recognize its validity immediately. Thank you! Dec 22, 2014 at 4:39
  • 1
    That's the way things usually go -- variation in the word pool produces adaptation to specific niches. Dec 22, 2014 at 4:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.