Definition of supernumerary in English:



  • 1Present in excess of the normal or requisite number, in particular.

    1. 1.1(of a person) not belonging to a regular staff but engaged for extra work.
      • ‘But the film also shows that society does not see him as such: it sees only an FOB, a supernumerary worker in a cheap laundromat, a potential Communist agitator.’
      • ‘Many of these men were drawn from among the ranks of principal and supernumerary soldiers serving in guard units of the Northern Metropolitan Area, a pool of men with a modicum of military training and ready access to the weapons of the day.’
      • ‘As the number of supernumerary troops in the garrisons grew, many were put to work on the agricultural colonies, becoming servants and construction laborers, or pressed into active military service.’
      • ‘Consider, for example, the mid-fifteenth century case of Duan Gang, a supernumerary soldier from a guard unit attached to an imperial prince who resided in Luzhou, Shanxi Province.’
      • ‘Returning to Cardiff, he became a supernumerary registrar to the medical school before leaving to become a general practitioner in the Swansea Valley.’
      • ‘At seventeen he set out, working his way on a cargo ship as a supernumerary - doing the odd jobs.’
    2. 1.2Not wanted or needed; redundant.
      ‘books were obviously supernumerary, and he began jettisoning them’
      unnecessary, not required, inessential, unessential, needless, unneeded, uncalled for, dispensable, disposable, expendable, unwanted, useless
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3(of an actor) appearing on stage but not speaking.
    4. 1.4Botany Zoology Denoting a structure or organ occurring in addition to the normal ones.
      ‘a pair of supernumerary teats’
      • ‘Most frequently seen are supernumerary nipples anywhere along the primitive milk line, though true accessory mammary glands are most frequently located in the axilla (polymastia).’
      • ‘Complete doubling of the uterine tubes may occur in association with supernumerary ovaries.’
      • ‘The most common variation of the lungs is the presence of supernumerary fissures.’
      • ‘Various cases of supernumerary testicles have been reported during operations or in physical examination (without histological proof, however).’
      • ‘It's a disorder in which supernumerary bones form.’


  • A supernumerary person or thing.

    ‘as a supernumerary he was given a variety of jobs’
    • ‘The thousands of supernumeraries in the Eastern Cape who cost the province R1 billion a year are not facing retrenchment in the immediate future.’
    • ‘Her mainmast is 29 metres high, and she has a permanent crew of 16, assisted by 36 voyage crew and various supernumeraries.’
    • ‘‘The supernumeraries are a problem mainly at provincial level, but the ghost workers are all over,’ he said.’
    • ‘The rest of the cast are really supernumeraries; other ranks, captured German soldiers, etc although, again, they are well played and convincing in what they are called upon to do.’
    • ‘Others, called supernumeraries, would live in the community within their families.’
    • ‘Seven years ago central government promised a solution, but the supernumeraries still use chairs, desks and telephones and they are costing close to a billion rands a year.’
    • ‘In order to ensure safety, the staff watch leaders supplemented the youth crew and the other staff assisted when requested, but only as supernumeraries under direction from the youth crew.’
    • ‘They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama.’
    • ‘I was pleased to hear that staff expenditure had been cut but was not happy to hear that the issue of supernumeraries was not mentioned.’
    • ‘A few words with my boss resulted in him being drafted as a supernumerary which became permanent eventually.’
    • ‘Although public indignation at the burgeoning Civil List led to some drastic pruning, the Royal supernumeraries continued to live high on the hog.’


Early 17th century: from late Latin supernumerarius (soldier) added to a legion after it is complete, from Latin super numerum beyond the number.