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un·​der·​study ˈən-dər-ˌstə-dē How to pronounce understudy (audio)
understudied; understudying; understudies

intransitive verb

: to study another actor's part in order to substitute in an emergency

transitive verb

: to prepare (a part or character) as understudy
also : to prepare as understudy to (an actor)


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un·​der·​study ˈən-dər-ˌstə-dē How to pronounce understudy (audio)
: one who is prepared to act another's part or take over another's duties

Examples of understudy in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Since May 2023, she’s been starring as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the national touring company of Wicked, having previously understudied the role a few years prior. Julie Tremaine, Peoplemag, 19 Nov. 2023 Adding to all the backstage drama is Clea (Rebecca Liddiard), the props manager who’s angling to find a way for her girlfriend, Rachel (Vinessa Antoine), who’s understudying role of Salome, to get her shot in the spotlight. Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Sep. 2023 Then, as rehearsals continue, there’s a palpable spark between Jeanine and Luke (Douglas Smith), an old friend who is understudying the role of John the Baptist. Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Sep. 2023 The premise was seemingly simple — how blackness operates in modern and contemporary art — yet the question of how Blackness is and has been represented was understudied until the exhibition. Kate Guadagnino, New York Times, 25 Sep. 2023 Law enforcement lobbied against the proposal, arguing that the drugs were understudied and could lead to a surge in crime. Hannah Wiley, Los Angeles Times, 7 Sep. 2023 The actor/singer also took on three lead parts in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in 2014, understudying for the roles of Gerry Goffin, Don Kirshner and Barry Mann. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 18 Aug. 2023 Perhaps social media influencer Kimber (Ashley Park) or understudy Jonathan (Jason Veasey), boyfriend to Oliver’s assistant, Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton)? Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 7 Aug. 2023 After losing 3-2, an Australian squad dealing with injuries to striker Sam Kerr and understudy Mary Fowler needs to beat Olympic champion Canada in Melbourne on Monday to control its own fate for a spot in the round of 16. John Pye, BostonGlobe.com, 27 July 2023
Isabel Keating, the understudy for the role, will continue to play the role for performances through Feb. 11. Caitlin Huston, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Feb. 2024 Neither the White House nor Austin’s understudy, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, was informed of his whereabouts or the threat to his health until Thursday — a matter of particular concern given that Hicks herself was vacationing in Puerto Rico at the time. The Editors, National Review, 8 Jan. 2024 Queen’s understudy and potential replacement, Trenton Simpson, showed off his playmaking verve with a sack and a pair of tackles for loss. Childs Walker, Baltimore Sun, 7 Jan. 2024 As if on cue, a cast of previous understudies stole center stage. Michelle Kaufman, Miami Herald, 30 Jan. 2024 San Diego actors Giovanny Diaz de Leon and Lance Arthur Smith are serving as understudies on the production. Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Jan. 2024 And so his understudy went on and that's what's preserved. Jack Smart, Peoplemag, 11 Dec. 2023 For two years, Moss had been relegated to the role of Williams’ understudy, biding his time as a backup until his chance would finally arrive. Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times, 28 Dec. 2023 From 2016 to 2019, Olivia was the understudy for Elphaba on the national tour, according to Playbill. Julie Tremaine, Peoplemag, 19 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'understudy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


1874, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense


1882, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of understudy was in 1874

Dictionary Entries Near understudy

Cite this Entry

“Understudy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/understudy. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: to study another actor's part in order to be his or her substitute in an emergency
understudy noun

More from Merriam-Webster on understudy

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