I generally know the difference between the 2 words.

For example:

The housing project was replaced by a new high-rise


Residents of the housing project were displaced when developers decided to build a new high-rise.

But I'm having a tough time with this context:

The blueprint process is now obsolete. It was displaced by the whiteprint process.

Is 'displaced (by)' best, or is "It was replaced by the whiteprint process" more appropriate?

  • 2
    I'd go with 'superseded'. May 3 at 18:43
  • Either would do. You probably want to consider things like how fast and how total the transformation was, and whether blueprints have additional or alternative uses.
    – Stuart F
    May 3 at 19:48
  • 4
    Displacement is lateral motion; something that has been displaced has been pushed out of where it used to be. Replacement means change of occupier; something that has been replaced is no longer to be found in the same place; its original place has been taken by something else. May 3 at 20:54
  • 1
    Consider The stones displaced the water and The stones replaced the water. The first may happen when the stones cause the water level to rise, but the water is still in the container. The second means the water was removed and stones put in instead. Likewise with people - displaced people are still around, but replaced people are gone.
    – Peter
    May 4 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


replace: 1 : to restore to a former place or position

replace cards in a file

2 : to take the place of especially as a substitute or successor (this is the case here)

3 : to put something new in the place of

replace a worn carpet

displace: to take the place of someone or something

Many of these workers will be displaced by modern technology.

to make someone or something leave their usual place or position

The earthquake displaced thousands of people.

ref: Merriam Webster / Cambridge dictionary

So as we can see, displace has a feeling of being forced out of position whereas replace is more neutral. In your example, both are possible with slightly different meanings.

Blueprint was replaced by whiteprint because it was obsolete.

Buleprint was displaced by whiteprint suggests that whiteprint was so brilliant that it made blueprint obsolete.


In A replaced B the focus is on the role or place previously occupied by B: we are told that it is now occupied by A, and we are not told anything about B, other than that it doesn't occupy that role/place any more. The word replace doesn't tell us whether B was destroyed when A came to occupy that role/place, or it now continues to exist somewhere else.

A displaced B, on the other hand, does imply that that B was not destroyed by the replacement, that it shifted to some other role/place (possibly more limited than the original one).

Thus 'the blueprint process was displaced by the whiteprint process' implies that there continued to be some use for the blueprint process somewhere, after it was replaced by the whiteprint process in most of its uses. If one does not want to imply that, one should say that the blueprint process was replaced by the whiteprint process.

The criterion for whether it is OK to say that A displaced B is, however, not very sharp. Depending on what A and B are, it may be that B lingers for some time in some smaller role before it disappears completely. Or it may be that B continues to exist in some very, very narrow domain. People may disagree on when such limited-time or limited-domain existence of B is sufficient to warrant saying that it has been displaced by A.

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