Substitution in English Grammar

Substitution in English grammar is when a word, phrase, or clause in a sentence is replaced by a different word or phrase (e.g. one, do, this) in order to avoid repeating the previously used word. 

In these examples of substitution, the word/phrase in blue has been replaced later by the word in red:

My husband wants to go to Spain but I don't like it there.

He found out he had failed the exam. This upset him a lot.

All the cakes look nice but can I take the one with the icing on top, please?

Here are some common words and phrases that we use for substitution in English grammar.

Examples of Substitution in English Grammar

Yes and No

We often use the words yes and no instead of long sequences of other words. These are clausal substitutions as they are replacing whole clauses:

A: Do you know what you want to watch on TV tonight?

B: Yes. (= I know what I want to watch on TV tonight)

Here and There

We use words such as here and there as substitution in English grammar to replace details about place. In other words, to replace adverbials of place:

  • John asked me to go for dinner at Toni's Italian, but I didn't want to go there as it's so busy at the weekend.
  • I'm so glad I moved to Australia. I hope you'll visit me here one day. 

Then and At That Time

In order to replace details about time (adverbials of time), we use words such as then and at that time: 

  • He suggested we go at 5pm but I did not want to go then.
  • I prefer going abroad at Christmas time and my friends like to go at that time of year as well.

One, Ones, and The Same

These are often called nominal substitutions as they are replacing nouns in a sentence:

  • Both courses look good, so I'm not sure which one to choose.
  • We've finished this crossword puzzle. Do you want to start another one?
  • Don't buy those shoes - I think you can find some better ones.
  • He wants the beef burger with cheese, and I think I'll have the same.


This is often referred to as a verbal substitution as it is an auxiliary verb used to replace verbs or verb phrases: 

  • I'm sure you'll get home before I do.

We also sometimes combine do with so and the same to make a substitution:

  • He's been exercising every day. You should do the same.
  • Olivia likes pancakes and so does Jane.

So or Not

These two words are commonly used to replace clauses, and they are therefore clausal substitutions

A: Do you think John will pass his driving test first time?

B: No, I don't think so 


B: I think not

This and That

We use this and that for substitution in English grammar in order to refer to longer pieces of text that can't usually be related to a specific part of the sentence as in the examples above.

They would be classed as clausal substitutions as they are replacing whole clauses:

  • There is inflation and rising unemployment in the country. This/That is going to cause problems for the government in the elections. 
  • She didn't even bother to thank me, and that's why I won't help her again.

This and that are often interchangeable in substitution as in the first example, but we use that to disassociate ourselves from something or someone as in the second example. 

Now test yourself in this substitution quiz >>

More on Substitution and Ellipsis:

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