Alternate vs. Substitute — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 27, 2023
Alternate implies taking turns or choosing between options; substitute refers to replacing one thing with another.
Difference Between Alternate and Substitute
Table of Contents
The term alternate often denotes the act of taking turns or the option chosen in place of another. It is commonly used to signify something that serves in place of another, usually on a rotational or cyclical basis, allowing each element its time or place. For instance, in a discussion, people might present alternate viewpoints, meaning they represent differing opinions or perspectives. Similarly, an alternate route is one that a person can take instead of the usually taken one.
Conversely, the word substitute refers to a person or thing acting or serving in place of another. This term implies a sense of replacement rather than rotation or sequence. For example, in a game, a substitute player is one who replaces another player, not necessarily taking turns with them. Substitute often infers that the replacement is of equivalent value or function, fulfilling the same role as what it replaces, like a sugar substitute serving as a sweetener in place of sugar.
When referring to alternate, the emphasis is on the availability of other options or the cyclical or sequential occurrence of things. It doesn’t necessarily imply direct replacement but offers a different option or sequence, like alternate days meaning every other day. It can also denote serving in place of another under specific circumstances or conditions, such as an alternate juror serving in the absence of the primary juror.
In contrast, a substitute usually comes into play when the original is unavailable, unsuitable, or undesirable. The substitute takes the place of the original, assuming its role or function. In education, a substitute teacher directly replaces the regular teacher during their absence, ensuring continuity in instruction. The emphasis here is not on offering a different sequence or option but on filling a vacancy or fulfilling a need.
Option or sequence in place of another
Person or thing acting or serving in place of another
Cyclical, rotational, or optional
Might not fulfill the same role always
Fulfills the same role as the one being replaced
Available as another option or in a sequence
Available when the original is not
Routes, days, members
Players, teachers, ingredients
Compare with Definitions
Occur in turn repeatedly
Bouts of depression alternate with periods of elation
Represents an alternative solution to a problem or requirement.
Vegans often use tofu as a substitute for meat in recipes.
Every other; every second
She was asked to attend on alternate days
It refers to the act of replacing someone or something.
Due to an injury, a substitute player was called onto the field.
Another term for alternative
A novel set in an alternate universe
It denotes a person or thing acting or serving in place of another.
I used a sugar substitute to sweeten my coffee.
A person who acts as a deputy or substitute
He shall be entitled to exercise the vote of the director for whom he is an alternate
It implies taking the place or role of something else.
During the teacher's absence, a substitute taught the class.
To occur in a successive manner
Day alternating with night.
It signifies the equivalence in function or role between the original and the replacement.
The recipe said that apple sauce could be a substitute for oil.
To act or proceed by turns
The students alternated at the computer.
One that takes the place of another
Finding substitutes for coal.
Came in as a substitute at the end of the game.
To pass back and forth from one state, action, or place to another
Alternated between happiness and depression.
(Grammar) A word or construction used in place of another word, phrase, or clause.
(Electricity) To reverse direction at regular intervals in a circuit.
To put or use (a person or thing) in place of another
Substituted plastic for steel to reduce the weight.
To do or execute by turns.
Usage Problem To replace
Substituted the worn-out couch with a new one.
Original artworks that were substituted by fakes.
To cause to alternate
Alternated light and dark squares to form a pattern.
To take the place of another
"Only art can substitute for nature" (Leonard Bernstein).
Happening or following in turns; succeeding each other continuously
Alternate seasons of the year.
(transitive) To use in place of something else, with the same function.
I had no shallots so I substituted onion.
Designating or relating to every other one of a series
To use X in place of Y.
I had to substitute new parts for the old ones.
Serving or used in place of another; substitute
An alternate plan. See Usage Note at alternative.
To use Y in place of X; to replace X with Y.
I had to substitute old parts with the new ones.
Arranged singly at each node, as leaves or buds on different sides of a stem.
To remove (a player) from the field of play and bring on another in his place.
He was playing poorly and was substituted after twenty minutes
Arranged regularly between other parts, as stamens between petals.
(intransitive) To serve as a replacement (for someone or something).
A person acting in the place of another; a substitute.
A replacement or stand-in for something that achieves a similar result or purpose.
(sports) A player who is available to replace another if the need arises, and who may or may not actually do so.
Happening by turns; one following the other in succession of time or place; first one and then the other (repeatedly)
Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique.
(historical) One who enlists for military service in the place of a conscript.
(mathematics) Designating the members in a series, which regularly intervene between the members of another series, as the odd or even numbers of the numerals; every other; every second.
The alternate members 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.
(economics) substitute good
(US) Other; alternative.
Hyperlinked text is displayed in alternate color in a Web browser.
He lives in an alternate universe and an alternate reality.
One who, or that which, is substituted or put in the place of another; one who acts for another; that which stands in lieu of something else
Hast thou not made me here thy substitute?
Ladies [in Shakespeare's age] . . . wore masks as the sole substitute known to our ancestors for the modern parasol.
Distributed singly at different heights of the stem, and at equal intervals as respects angular divergence
To put in the place of another person or thing; to exchange.
Some few verses are inserted or substituted in the room of others.
That which alternates with something else; vicissitude.
A person or thing that takes or can take the place of another
(US) A substitute; an alternative; one designated to take the place of another, if necessary, in performing some duty.
An athlete who plays only when another member of the team drops out
(mathematics) A proportion derived from another proportion by interchanging the means.
Someone who takes the place of another (as when things get dangerous or difficult);
The star had a stand-in for dangerous scenes
We need extra employees for summer fill-ins
(US) A replacement of equal or greater value or function.
Put in the place of another; switch seemingly equivalent items;
The con artist replaced the original with a fake Rembrandt
Substitute regular milk with fat-free milk
(heraldry) Figures or tinctures that succeed each other by turns.
Be a substitute;
The young teacher had to substitute for the sick colleague
The skim milk substitutes for cream--we are on a strict diet
(transitive) To perform by turns, or in succession; to cause to succeed by turns; to interchange regularly.
Act as a substitute;
She stood in for the soprano who suffered from a cold
(intransitive) To happen, succeed, or act by turns; to follow reciprocally in place or time; followed by with.
The flood and ebb tides alternate with each other.
Being a replacement or substitute for a regular member of a team
(intransitive) To vary by turns.
The land alternates between rocky hills and sandy plains.
Capable of substituting in any of several positions on a team;
A utility infielder
To perform an alternation (removal of alternate vertices) on (a polytope or tessellation); to remove vertices (from a face or edge) as part of an alternation.
Artificial and inferior;
Being or succeeding by turns; one following the other in succession of time or place; by turns first one and then the other; hence, reciprocal.
And bid alternate passions fall and rise.
Designating the members in a series, which regularly intervene between the members of another series, as the odd or even numbers of the numerals; every other; every second; as, the alternate members 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. ; read every alternate line.
Distributed, as leaves, singly at different heights of the stem, and at equal intervals as respects angular divergence.
That which alternates with something else; vicissitude.
Grateful alternates of substantial.
A substitute; one designated to take the place of another, if necessary, in performing some duty.
A proportion derived from another proportion by interchanging the means.
To perform by turns, or in succession; to cause to succeed by turns; to interchange regularly.
The most high God, in all things appertaining unto this life, for sundry wise ends alternates the disposition of good and evil.
To happen, succeed, or act by turns; to follow reciprocally in place or time; - followed by with; as, the flood and ebb tides alternate with each other.
Rage, shame, and grief alternate in his breast.
Different species alternating with each other.
To vary by turns; as, the land alternates between rocky hills and sandy plains.
Someone who takes the place of another person
Go back and forth; swing back and forth between two states or conditions
Exchange people temporarily to fulfill certain jobs and functions
Be an understudy or alternate for a role
Reverse (a direction, attitude, or course of action)
Do something in turns;
We take turns on the night shift
Every second one of a series;
The cleaning lady comes on alternate Wednesdays
Jam every other day
Allowing a choice;
An alternative plan
Occurring by turns; first one and then the other;
Alternating feelings of love and hate
Of leaves and branches etc; first on one side and then on the other in two ranks along an axis; not paired;
Stems with alternate leaves
It denotes taking turns or following by turns.
We decided to cook dinner on alternate days.
It can refer to a substitute, especially in the absence of the regular holder of a position.
John served as the alternate in Mike's absence.
Represents another option or choice available.
We had to take an alternate route due to construction.
It can denote every other in a sequence.
The pattern was red and blue stripes, appearing in alternate sequence.
It can imply interchangeable use between options.
The software allows you to use alternate methods to accomplish the task.
What does Substitute mean?
Substitute refers to replacing one thing with another.
Can Alternate mean a replacement?
Yes, alternate can sometimes mean a replacement, especially in the absence of the regular.
What does Alternate imply?
Alternate implies taking turns or choosing between options.
Can an Alternate route be a detour?
Yes, an alternate route can be a detour or different path chosen.
Is a Substitute always equivalent to the original?
Generally, a substitute is intended to be equivalent in function to the original.
Can you Substitute ingredients in a recipe?
Yes, you can often substitute one ingredient for another in recipes.
Do Alternate members attend all meetings?
Alternate members may attend meetings, especially in the absence of regular members.
Can Alternate refer to cyclical occurrence?
Yes, alternate often refers to cyclical or sequential occurrence of things.
Can a Substitute teacher have different qualifications?
Yes, a substitute teacher might have different qualifications than the regular teacher.
Does Alternate mean every other in a sequence?
Yes, alternate can mean every other in a sequence.
Is a Substitute player a permanent replacement?
No, a substitute player is typically a temporary replacement.
Is it possible to Substitute a component in machinery?
Yes, it's possible to substitute a component with another if it fulfills the same function.
Can you have multiple Alternate options?
Yes, you can have multiple alternate options to choose from.
Can a Substitute fulfill the same role as the original?
Yes, a substitute is intended to fulfill the same role as the original.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.