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Alternate vs. Substitute: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 17, 2023
"Alternate" means to occur in turn repeatedly, while "substitute" refers to a person or thing acting or serving in place of another.

Key Differences

"Alternate" is used when referring to a process involving succession or taking turns. In contrast, "substitute" is used when something or someone takes the place of another.
An alternate serves as an option or choice among others in a sequence. A substitute, however, directly replaces another element or person.
Alternate implies an option within a range or cycle, without suggesting a replacement. Substitute implies a direct replacement, often due to absence or inadequacy of the original.
Alternates often have a sense of temporary or rotational nature. Substitutes can be either temporary or permanent replacements.
In sports, an alternate player may take turns with others, while a substitute player replaces an injured teammate.

Comparison Chart


To take turns or occur by turns
To replace or take the place of


Choice among options
Direct replacement


Sequential or rotational change
Replacement due to absence or need


Often temporary or rotational
Can be temporary or permanent


Alternate routes
Substitute teacher

Alternate and Substitute Definitions


Every other; every second.
He visits his parents on alternate weekends.


A sports player replacing another.
The coach called in a substitute at halftime.


To interchange repeatedly.
They alternate teaching the class every week.


To replace one thing or person for another.
We had to substitute sugar with honey in the recipe.


A substitute or second option.
She was the alternate for the lead role in the play.


A person or thing acting in place of another.
She is a substitute teacher.


To occur in turn repeatedly.
The traffic lights alternate between red and green.


Used or added in place of.
This is a substitute ingredient for the original.


Serving in someone's place.
He is the alternate juror in the trial.


To act or serve in place of another.
He will substitute for me at the meeting.


To occur in a successive manner
Day alternating with night.


One that takes the place of another
Finding substitutes for coal.
Came in as a substitute at the end of the game.


How is "alternate" used in traffic systems?

It refers to the sequence of traffic signals or routes.

What does "alternate" imply in meetings?

It implies rotating or taking turns in roles or duties.

Can "alternate" be used as a noun?

Yes, it can refer to a backup option or choice.

Is a "substitute" always temporary?

Not always; substitutes can be either temporary or permanent.

Is a "substitute" used in sports?

Yes, to replace players who are injured or tired.

Is "substitute" used in cooking?

Yes, to replace ingredients with others.

Do "alternate" and "alternative" mean the same?

Not exactly; "alternative" often implies a choice among different options.

Can a "substitute" be better than the original?

In some cases, yes, depending on the context.

Can "substitute" be a person?

Yes, like a substitute teacher.

Can a "substitute" have the same quality as the original?

Sometimes, though it often implies a lesser equivalent.

Can "alternate" mean a backup plan?

Yes, it can refer to a secondary option or plan.

Does "substitute" imply a permanent change?

Not necessarily; it depends on the context.

Does "alternate" imply equality between options?

Not always; it implies a choice or rotation among options.

Is "alternate" used in electrical systems?

Yes, as in alternating current (AC).

Does "alternate" always involve two options?

Often, but it can involve more in a sequence.

Can "substitute" be used in technology?

Yes, to replace older tech with new.

Can a "substitute" be a product?

Yes, like a substitute good in economics.

Can "alternate" refer to a method?

Yes, as in alternating methods or techniques.

Can "substitute" refer to a role in a play?

Yes, as a replacement actor or character.

Is "alternate" used in sports?

Yes, as in alternate players or strategies.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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