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[suhb-awl-tern or especially for 3, 6, suhb-uh l-turn] /sʌbˈɔl tərn or especially for 3, 6, ˈsʌb əlˌtɜrn/
lower in rank; subordinate:
a subaltern employee.
British Military. noting a commissioned officer below the rank of captain.
  1. denoting the relation of one proposition to another when the first proposition is implied by the second but the second is not implied by the first.
  2. (in Aristotelian logic) denoting the relation of a particular proposition to a universal proposition having the same subject, predicate, and quality.
  3. of or relating to a proposition having either of these relations to another.
a person who has a subordinate position.
British Military. a commissioned officer below the rank of captain.
Logic. a subaltern proposition.
Origin of subaltern
1575-85; < Late Latin subalternus, equivalent to sub- sub- + alternus alternate
Related forms
subalternity, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for subaltern
Historical Examples
  • The father was just a subaltern then, and no so very discreet either; and she was fighting among her young family, poor thing!

  • I had before appointed a subaltern's guard for the protection of my baggage.

    The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77 Samuel Adams Drake
  • The subaltern ran on harder than ever, with some vague idea of "stopping a scene," but he need not have bothered.

    "Contemptible" "Casualty"
  • With such a subaltern, what might not he, Father Esteban, accomplish!

  • When the hand was finished the subaltern turned round, and for the first time perceived who was speaking to him.

    General Gatacre Beatrix Gatacre
  • The subaltern, who approached too closely, received a share of the blows as well.

    The Man in the Iron Mask Alexandre Dumas, Pere
  • In the British army a lieutenant is a subaltern officer ranking next below a captain and above a second lieutenant.

  • Well, you're like a young officer—a subaltern they call it, don't they?

    The Trail of the Hawk Sinclair Lewis
  • The subaltern's Company was directly in front of the village itself; another Company to the right, the fourth in local reserve.

    "Contemptible" "Casualty"
  • He had fully anticipated the answer, as the subaltern replied, "Only the women servants."

    Clarence Bret Harte
British Dictionary definitions for subaltern


a commissioned officer below the rank of captain in certain armies, esp the British
a person of inferior rank or position
  1. the relation of one proposition to another when the first is implied by the second, esp the relation of a particular to a universal proposition
  2. (as modifier): a subaltern relation
of inferior position or rank
Word Origin
C16: from Late Latin subalternus, from Latin sub- + alternus alternate, from alter the other
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for subaltern

"subordinate," c.1400 (implied in subalternal), from Middle French subalterne, from Late Latin subalternus, from Latin sub "under" (see sub-) + alternus "every other (one), one after the other" (see alternate (adj.)). The noun meaning "person of inferior rank" is attested from c.1600; as the designation of an army officer, from 1680s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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