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I believe the following is a correct sentence:

The grocery store has standard butter, but it will soon be substituted for organic butter.

which suggests that standard butter will be taken off the shelves.

But if the second part is rewritten in active voice, the sentence should become:

The grocery store has standard butter, but it will soon substitute standard butter for organic butter

which suggests organic butter will be taken off the shelves.

Why is there a discrepancy? The two mean completely the opposite.

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The sentence, "The grocery store has standard butter, but it will soon be substituted for organic butter" makes no sense to me. Since "grocery store" is the subject of the first clause, I first assumed "it" referred to the store and wondered how a store could be substituted for butter. It's not clear what "it" refers to in this sentence.

It's also passive voice: "be substituted" which does not indicate who is doing the substituting. So it's vague that way.

The word "substitute" can be used as a verb, "to-substitute" or a noun, "the-substitute". The first implies that you are switching the original for something else. The second implies a surrogate or stand-in, which is the opposite. But I think the sentence is clear in this regard because standard butter will be substituted for organic, meaning standard will win. If it said, standard butter will be substituted with organic, then organic will win, although in American English, that sounds very awkward to my ear.

Please don't take this personally, but your first sentence is really poor for all the above reasons. I think, "The grocery store will soon substitute standard butter for organic butter" is a much clearer sentence.

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  • "standard butter will be substituted for organic, meaning standard will win" But in the sentence, the store already has standard, so organic is meant to win - right?
    – John M.
    Nov 6 '17 at 15:36
  • The way I read it is that standard will win and organic taken off the shelves. There are a lot of problems with this sentence, but "substituted for" means that standard will win. If it said "substituted with" it means organic will win. That may be my regional bias. I grew up outside New York City and currently live in the rural South-Eastern US. Brits, Aussies, Indians, and others may not share my bias this way, or maybe it's universal. I don't know. Nov 6 '17 at 16:28
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The contradiction occurs because you, yourself, changed the sentence. THE active voice would be "substitute organic butter for standard butter".

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Your question revolves around a key misunderstanding of how "substitute for" works. The phrase gives the same ultimate result regardless of active/passive use, the only thing that changes is the agent that performs the action:

  • X will be substituted for Y = Y is being removed or is unavailable, someone will put X in its place instead

  • X will substitute for Y = Y is being removed or is unavailable, X will take its place

Therefore, your first sentence is not consistent, because it states that (a) standard butter is already present, and (b) in contrast to part (a) (because of the 'but'), standard butter will soon be present (in organic butter's spot).

The closely related replace does allow the subject and object to change places when passive voice is used: X will replace Y is the same as Y will be replaced by X.

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