I had that sentence:

Tablets and phones are substituting laptops in many tasks

Someone corrected me and added "for"

Tablets and phones are substituting for laptops in many tasks

I do not understand the correction. I am not native English speaker, I am learning. For me, the second sentence sounds very strange. Is that correct and why?


  • You're right, that correction sounds odd. I'd personally change it by replacing "in" with "for" like so: Tablets and phones are substituting laptops for many tasks.
    – Alexander
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 15:12
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    @Alexander - Different meaning. The original sentence (as corrected in the question) says that laptops are being replaced by tablets and phones; your correction says that laptops are being used in place of something unspecified, and it is the tablets and phones that are causing the laptops to be used instead of the something unspecified. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 15:52
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    @Alexander: I suspect most people would expect X is substituting for Y in contexts like this - just because your specific rephrasing happens to include for many tasks doesn't mean you don't "need" the first one. Consider the syntactically similar context Although Tom didn't play in the first half, he substituted Dick in the second half. That comes across as "muddled" to me - I'd expect something like the captain substituted Dick or he [i.e. Tom] substituted for Dick. But I'd say the captain substituted X is ambiguous as to whether X came on or left the field. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 17:33

1 Answer 1


The second sentence is correct. Most verbs do something "to" the predicate. "To substitute" does something "on behalf of" the predicate. Whenever you are doing something on behalf of another person or thing, you must use the word "for." This also allows you to imply substitution. "I'm in the meeting for Ms. Alford," is a short form of "I'm substituting for Ms. Alford in this meeting."

On a side note: On behalf of those of us who grew up without smart phones, the plain word "phone" almost always brings up an image of a plain old-fashioned phone, which doesn't substitute for a laptop. You might consider saying "smart phone" rather than "phone." It'll be another 25 years before "phone" always means "smart phone" to the majority of unknown readers.

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    In 25 years I'd have thought calling your handheld a "phone" (smart or otherwise) will be about as common as calling your hifi / home audio a "record player". Admittedly I still do that, nearly twenty years after disconnecting my turntable (and 15 years after discarding the CD player in favour of ripping everything to hard drives). But that's because I'm an old fart who resists language change. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 17:39
  • If I understand, my first sentence: "Tablets and phones are substituting laptops in many tasks" is not correct?
    – Nrc
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 7:29
  • Yes, the first sentence is not correct. The second sentence is.
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:07

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