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I have a question about the words order and their effect on the meaning of a sentence when it comes to use the verbs "replace" and "substitute"!

As far as I know, "to replace someone / something with someone / something else" means "to substitute someone / something for someone / something else".

Additionally, as far as I am concerned, if you are replacing A with B, then you are substituting B for A.

But problem is that if changing the words' places in each structure makes any difference in meaning?

For instance, does it make any difference if I say:

    1. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to replace me with Sam Or substitute Sam for me.
    1. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to replace Sam with me Or substitute me for Sam.

Let me simplify it! The inly thing that is important in the meaning of the two is that:

(Replace X with Y = Substitute Y for X)

But I need to know if replacing X and Y has a specific connotation in English? For example, in:

  • 1.a. They are going to replace Sam with me.
    1.b. They are going to substitute me for Sam.

..........................

  • 2.a. They are going to replace me with Sam.
    2.b. They are going to substitute Sam for me.

I was wondering which set implies that I was the first employee and Sam is taking my place?

Also which set implies that I as a new employee am taking Sam's place?

I hope I could make myself understood.

Thank you.

  • 1
    A-friend, your 1a reads the same as 2a, and 1b the same as 2b. – AIQ Sep 18 at 16:24
  • Thank you for pointing my typo out. Pleas have a look on my edit @AIQ. – A-friend Sep 19 at 10:25
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You are correct that "replacing A with B" and "substituting B for A" have essentially the same meaning. In both cases A was there first, A was removed, and B was put in its place. If we said "replacing B with A" then B was there first.

When dealing with people, particularly in an employment context, "substitute" tends to suggest a temporary change, while "replace" tends to indicate a permanent change.

  • Jane is having an operation, and will be out for two months, so Bill will substitute for her.
  • Martha got a poor review and has left the company, so she will be replaced by Fred.

The difference is subtle, but significant. However, it cannot be relied on -- "substitute" can be used for a permanent change, and "replace" for a temporary change, althoguh this is unusual in my experience.

Now let's look at the examples from the question:

  • 1A. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to replace me with Sam.
  • 1B. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to substitute Sam for me.

These are both grammatical, and carry much the same meaning, aside from the nuance I mentioned above, which would favor 1A over 1B.

  • 2A. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to replace Sam with me.
  • 2B. Yesterday, I had a terrible quarrel with the company's directing manager and they are going to substitute me for Sam.

2A and 2B also have very similar meanings to each other, but quite different from (indeed opposite to) 1A and 1B. However 2a/2B seem internally inconsistent. They say that Sam is going out and "me" is going in, but that doesn't seem consistent with "I had a terrible quarrel". I suppose these might be possible if Sam's position was of lower rank or status, and "replace Sam with me" means a demotion fro the speaker. They would make better sense if they said "Sam had a terrible quarrel", then the two clauses would be consistent.

  • Thank you @David Siegel, just let me ask another question to make sure. Please imagine in a soccer match an old player runs out of breath and energy during the play and cannot run anymore. Which choice would be correct? a. The younger player was substituted for him. b The old player was substituted for a younger younger player. --- To me, they both work and mean the same. – A-friend Sep 19 at 12:16
  • Also, you mentioned: "Martha got a poor review and has left the company, so she will be replaced by Fred.", while as far as I know, someone can only be "replaced with someone else and whereas someone else can replace A with B, hence, A can be replaced with B, by C. Please kindly let me know about it too. – A-friend Sep 19 at 13:00
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    @ A-friend It is perhaps more common to say "Replace A with B" but it is perfectly normal to say "A will be replaced by B". The meaning is the same. This is not the same use of "by" as a use indicating an agent, as in "The action was performed by C" – David Siegel Sep 19 at 13:44
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    @A-friend Yes that is all absolutely correct. – David Siegel Sep 19 at 13:58
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    @A-friend I would not use or advise the use of "substitute X by Y, but I am not prepared to say that it is incorrect. If it is used, i would understand it to mean the same as "substitute X for Y", and so you will understand what others mean if they use that form. – David Siegel Sep 19 at 14:38

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