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Substitution is the replacement of one word with another.

One of the core linguistics rules is that within a given structure, one phrase (which may be a single-word phrase) can be substituted for another phrase that has similar syntactic properties.

This concept is introduced very early to students, e.g.

  • "What's your name?" / "My name is Cherry"
  • "What's his name?" / "His name is Bernie" (substituting "his" for "your" and "my", "Bernie" for "Cherry")
  • "What's her name?" / "Her name is Sophie" (substituting "her" for "your" and "my"; "Sophie" for "Cherry")
  • "What's my name?" / "Your name is Mr Smith." (substituting "my" for "your" and "your" for "my", "Mr Smith" for "Cherry")

Students who fail to grasp the concept of substitution may struggle, as may students who fail to pay attention to word classes and their properties. It's one of these features of language that's so simple it's blindingly obvious to the teacher, and any experienced language learner, but may not be so obvious to students.

Substitution drills and substitution tables are based on this principle.