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I know 'vice' and 'deputy' both mean "next in rank". In Merriam-Webster, we have these definitions:

vice:

one that takes the place of vice-chancellor

In comparison to:

deputy:

a person appointed as a substitute with power to act

a second in command or assistant who usually takes charge when his or her superior is absent; specifically : deputy sheriff

So the two have clearly similar meanings, suggesting a person who does not normally carry the full responsibility of a given position, but who can perform those same duties as required or directed to. Also, there are towns with Vice Mayors, and other towns with Deputy Mayors.

Can anyone tell their difference, such as usage or anything else? Are they completely interchangeable and merely a matter of of a particular organization's preferences?

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  • What does a dictionary say?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 1, 2016 at 12:17
  • @sesameblack- I have attempted to rescue your question, as I find it interesting myself. It was a fairly large edit, though, so if I went too far feel free to re-edit, with my apologies.
    – cobaltduck
    Sep 1, 2016 at 12:32
  • 1
    I think that the first two answers to this Quora question address this pretty well: quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-vice-and-deputy Sep 1, 2016 at 12:54
  • @cobaltduck- Thanks for your edit. I am still an English learner and struggling with writing. I think you did a good explanation and expansion. Sep 1, 2016 at 15:12

5 Answers 5

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Vice

Refers to the one second in command, next in authority to another person. It's used for people who are one step away to the highest authority. Their job is different from the higher person's. They're not authorized to act on behalf of the boss, unless they're told to do so.

Usually, a vice is someone, a person (maybe two persons, but not more). Not a group of people. Example:

vice president, vice admiral, vice chairman

Meanwhile:

Deputy

Refers to the one(s) appointed to act for another person (not necessarily next in command), to take their place on their behalf. What they do is subset to the higher person's authority. Usually, a person can have a number of deputies. Example:

Deputy manager, deputy sheriff.

The word deputy is also commonly used in organizations. At where I work, we have six deputies (not six vices).

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  • This is a solid answer. Where I work, we have a Director and three Associate Directors, one of whom is the "Principal Deputy" in the sense of this response. We also have committees, many of which single vice-chairs. Sep 2, 2016 at 5:16
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    I am not sure whether that is a solid answer. In my university, we have 'Executive Vice President for Research', 'Executive Vice President for Administrative Affairs', and 'Executive Vice President for Financial Affairs'. More than two people can have a vice position, as a counterexample. Sep 4, 2016 at 15:41
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Vice is someone who is second highest in position and can take up number one position in case of sudden demise of the person occupying number one position, without holding any fresh election. For example Vice President of USA, Vice President of Union of India can take over as Presidents in case of sudden demise, removal or resignation of Presidents. Whereas Deputies are meant only to assist the people in number one position and cannot take over number one positions. For example, Deputy Prime Minister of Union of India cannot become Prime Minister in case of his sudden demise.

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  • This seems to conflict with the definition of deputy given in the question. Oct 23, 2019 at 19:00
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From the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 'vice-' (must have a hyphen) and 'deputy' are similar. The differences are -

  1. You have to combine 'vice-' with another word, either a noun or an adjective, e.g. vice-captain, vice-president, vice-presidential, etc. You must not use 'vice-' as a single word;
    While 'deputy' is a noun. You use 'deputy' as a word alone, e.g. I am acting as deputy till the manager returns. She is acting as deputy to the chairman of the board.
    Or, you use 'deputy' as a noun before another noun, e.g. She was appointed deputy head of the school. A former deputy chairman of the Democratic Party.
  2. 'Vice-' originated from Latin vice 'in place of'. It means that when the most important person is away, you are in place of him or her during that time.
    In 'deputy', 'de' originated from Latin de 'away'. 'puty' originated from Latin putare 'consider'. It means that when the most important person is away, you consider what he or she is supposed to consider during that time. :)
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“Vice” refers to the one who is next in command and its usage is usually confined to a small number of people, whereas “Deputy” also refers the same but it is confined to considerably large number of people.

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  • See e.g. large corporate American businesses where they have large numbers of Vice-Presidents.
    – AndyT
    Oct 24, 2019 at 9:16
  • "Confined...to [a] large number"? That doesn't sound very confined.
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 27, 2022 at 22:24
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Both deputy X and vice X are terms for official positions that are, in some way, secondary to that of X. The difference is that a part of the meaning of deputy X is that the powers of the person holding such a position are derived from the powers of X. A vice X, on the other hand, may have powers that are not derived from those of X. For example, the Vice President of the United States has the power to cast the deciding vote when the Senate is evenly divided; that power is bestowed on the Vice President directly by the Constitution, and is not in any way derived from the powers of the President (the President does not have such a power).

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