Is there a word for someone who holds a position but they have no real power, they just merely have the title but not the power or privileges that come with it? I'm looking for a word with a negative connotation, almost like a placeholder position.

  • 1
    The adjective is nominal. From AHDEL:2. a. Existing in name only; not real: "a person with a nominal religious position but no actual duties" (Leo Damrosch). Collins has: 1. in name only; theoretical: the nominal leader. If they are controlled by others having the real power, they are a puppet. Aug 9, 2015 at 22:45
  • Do you want an adjective or a noun, or does either work?
    – herisson
    Aug 9, 2015 at 23:09
  • 1
    You might like to look at 'sinecure' as a useful word in this context ---> google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=sinecure%20definition Aug 9, 2015 at 23:40
  • 1
    @chaslyfromUK: according to my understanding of the word "sinecure," such a post is usually regarded as a positive by the person holding it -- they get privileges or benefits but don't have to do the work. This doesn't seem to fit what the OP is looking for very well.
    – herisson
    Aug 9, 2015 at 23:47
  • Possible duplicate of What’s a less obscure word for “sinecure”?
    – tchrist
    Aug 10, 2015 at 0:06

4 Answers 4


In general, figurehead seems like the best fit to me. From Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

figurehead: a person who is in a high position in a country or an organization but who has no real power or authority

However, in some cases this is more of a built-in feature of the position rather than of the individual holding it.

In terms of connotation, "figurehead" seems fairly neutral to me. It doesn't really have a positive connotation, since it implies a large degree of powerlessness, but I also wouldn't say it's necessarily negative.

Here are some other questions on the site that discuss the concept of a figurehead, and also the complementary concept of the "power behind the throne":


Here are some ideas.

  • Vice-presidency (noun) (for example, "The position of such-and-so is as meaningless as the U.S. vice-presidency")

  • Sham (adjective)

  • Puppet president (or whatever position you're talking about)

  • Token (for example, if a woman is promoted to vice president of something, but no one listens to her point of view, she may start to suspect she was hired as the token woman, i.e. she's just a token)

  • Mock (adjective) (for example, mock-ministers -- see http://prelude-mag.com/2013117fjtog2vngjasdrjesxvbzxk0avk7k3/)

  • Titular (adjective): existing or being such in title only; nominal; having the title but none of the associated duties, powers, etc. (dictionary.com)

As already proposed, figurehead is very good.

  • +1 for titular. A vice president may not make the big final decisions, but he or she certainly enjoys the power=influence / popularity, privileges and perks of their title. I would place VP at the bottom of the list, if at all.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 10, 2015 at 6:12
  • @Mari-LouA - Indeed, it would take a very special context and phrasing to make that one work! (I think my awareness of the vice-presidency was formed when Hubert Humphrey was VP. I could almost put him on the list by name.) Aug 10, 2015 at 12:27

I'm not sure if this fits your bill, but since you mentioned "placeholder", which has the implication of something or someone being temporarily used to hold a position while a more worthy replacement can be found (or put into power), I would like to suggest chair warmer.


chair warmer

noun, Informal. 1. an officeholder, employee, or the like, who accomplishes little, especially a person who holds an interim position.


The adjective is honorary.

Example: As honorary chairman of our foundation, ...

holding a title or position conferred for honor only. Ex: an honorary president.

EDIT: this response was provided before the precision of negative connotation.

  • Thanks, but i'm looking for more of a negative connotation, almost like a placeholder position. Any ideas?
    Aug 9, 2015 at 22:55
  • @NEEDHELP - I can propose straw man or puppet, but it's probably not what you are looking for.
    – Graffito
    Aug 9, 2015 at 23:04

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.